What does your handshake say?
When you encounter a business associate in the Western world, it is customary to offer your hand in greeting. In fact, if you knew that the same amount of rapport that is typically achieved through three hours of interaction with a stranger is automatically created by the physical touch of that initial handshake, you would never miss a chance to shake the hand of someone who you are meeting for the first time.
A handshake tells you so much about the people you meet, and they will also form opinions about you. If you hesitate to offer your hand readily, others may assume that you are reticent and withdrawn. A stiff hand doesn’t leave one with a feeling of engagement. Also, shaking the hand of someone who holds their arm out without bending it at the elbow is a good example of “keeping someone at arm’s length.” You might assume that they are not willing to develop an amicable relationship with you, given this first negative impression, but on the other hand, they simply may not be aware of the messages being conveyed.
Do not allow a lack of handshake protocol hinder your ability to effectively network with others. Follow these pointers to make sure that all your handshakes are welcoming, and reflect positively on your professionalism, and goodwill:
- In our gender-neutral business environment, a man or a woman can initiate a handshake.
- It is never pleasant to be on the receiving end of a limp handshake. You may wonder if the person with such a handshake has any authority or decision-making powers.
- Lean towards the person, extend your right hand, grasp their whole hand firmly, not just their fingers, and shake it approximately two or three times and then release it. Maintain warm, friendly eye contact during this process.
- When doing business globally, research the customs of the people you will be meeting and to be ready to greet them accordingly. In some cultures, physical contact with the opposite gender is not socially acceptable, while in others, accompanying a handshake with one, two or three air kisses is to be expected.
- If you are shaking the hand of someone who has a smaller bone structure than yours, be careful not to squeeze the person’s hand so tightly that it causes pain.
- Handshakes should not be an opportunity for arm wrestling. You should also keep your hand in a vertical position instead of turning it so that your palm is on top. There are more effective ways to show that you have the upper hand.
- If you are networking where cold drinks are being served, always hold your drink in your left hand.
- If moist palms are a concern and embarrassment, try placing a linen handkerchief sprayed with antiperspirant into your right pocket. Keep an eye out for an imminent handshake and subtly wipe your hand on the handkerchief before extending it.
- Do not be too affectionate when shaking hands. Grasping the other person’s hand in both of yours, or putting your left hand on the person’s arm, shoulder or back while shaking hands, are gestures that are too familiar and inappropriate in most business settings. Of course, as relationships develop, you may find that more affectionate ways of greeting one another become perfectly acceptable.
Empower Your Presence: How to Build True Wealth with Your Personal Brand and Image by Catherine Bell has more information on handshakes and other business and social etiquette.