Hand shakes matter. They are an important part of our business (and personal) life. Getting it wrong can create awkward moments and distract from making a good first impression.
I am sure you have all been there when we meet someone new and as part of the initial introduction we shake their hands – but instead of the solid, firm and confident hand shake we expect, we get a limp fish, a crushing gripper, or a sweaty slip.
Getting your handshake wrong is a sure-fire way of not making a good first impression. My favourite handshake mistakes are:
- The sweaty slip – some people have a natural tendency to get sweaty hands and many get them when they are nervous, that’s just normal. It can make shaking hands tricky in stressful situations such as job interviews. However, I think there is no excuse for a wet handshake. I sometimes get sweaty hands but I simply dry them on a piece of clothing before shaking someone’s hand.
- The limp fish – not gripping the other person’s hand firm enough and then shaking from your wrist is a big mistake because the messages I receive about the other person doing that include: ‘I am not confident’ or ‘I am a push-over’.
- The pinch – when someone pinches your fingers with their fingers. This is maybe something the Queen does, but has no place in real life. Again, this half-hearted handshake sends me signals like ‘I am not bothered about shaking your hands properly’ or ‘I don’t think you deserve a proper handshake’.
- The hand-holder – where the person shaking your hand keeps holding on and thinks he is actually holding hands with you rather than shaking hands. After anything more than 3 shakes my natural instinct tells me to pull my hand back and say ‘let go, why are we holding hands now?’ My mind is then suddenly preoccupied with forcing myself not to pull my hand away, which means I am no longer concentrating on the introduction or anything the other person is saying.
- The avoider – someone that doesn’t make eye contact when they shake your hand or someone that pulls their hand away too quickly. This again signals to me that they are either under-confident, very shy, or they don’t really want to meet me or shake my hand.
- The crushing gripper – when you shake someone’s hand and it feels like they are crushing every single bone in your hand. A hand shake that is too firm will make anyone feel uncomfortable. It makes you think ‘is the person trying to hurt me on purpose?’ and triggers a natural ‘I need to run away’ instinct.
For me, all of these show that the person shaking my hand is lacking basic social skills and emotional intelligence. It might be that people are not really aware of how they are shaking hands. The good news is, you can change it from today.
I believe, a handshake should be made with:
- a confident attitude,
- where you stand up with good posture,
- where you smile,
- where your hands interlink at the web of your hands (the part between your thumb and your index finder),
- where there is a firm grip (not too limp, and not too strong),
- where you make eye contact throughout,
- where you shake 2 or 3 times from your elbow,
- and then let go,
Even if we try, we sometimes get it wrong. For whatever reason you might end up with an awkward grip (maybe even an unintentional pinch). Or someone shakes your hand unexpectedly when you have sweaty hands. In that situation it is best to simply say ‘sorry, don’t think that was a proper handshake – let’s try again’ or ‘sorry, my hands seem really wet, let me quickly wipe them before shaking your hand’. Always remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Last, but not least, there are cultural differences and customs to consider. What I have said here is appropriate for most of the Western World. However, I am regularly doing business in Asia and The Middle East where things can be different. What I have learnt is that people in China prefer a weaker handshake, that it is not always appropriate for a man to shake hands with a woman in most Islamic countries, and that people in Thailand don’t like shaking hands at all.