Handshakes Speak for You

by Stacey Hanke

Have you ever wondered what your handshake says about you? Your handshake is like your business card. It conveys your confidence, credibility and influence without a single word being spoken. Studies have shown this one simple gesture can enhance a social situation and make a positive impact on others.

In our culture, a handshake accompanies almost every introduction and initiates many conversations. It sets the tone for new relationships by signaling others of your integrity. People often admit to judging others based on this small gesture. Because of this, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology encourages everyone to pay attention to their handshake as it has found significant consistencies in a firm handshake and a positive first impression.

Make a great first impression by considering your handshake and what it says about you, and avoid these eight types of handshakes that will hurt your influence with others:

Dead Fish — Also known as the limp noodle, this handshake conveys weakness and uncertainty. It gives people the impression you have a passive personality and can be easily overrun. Don’t use this handshake even when tempted to be gentle with a person due to age or gender.

Hand Crusher — Want someone to forget your name immediately? Squeeze their hand with constant force. They’ll be so distracted by the pain that they’ll tune out anything you say. This type of handshake diminishes trust others are willing to place in you. It sends the message you’re trying too hard, and people will likely question what you say after that.

Long Lingerer — Few things can make a handshake recipient more uncomfortable than someone who won’t let go of their hand. Handshakes should be no more than two seconds in length. Anything longer begins to cross personal boundaries and feels like a desperate invasion of space.

Hip Hipster — First bumps and fancy handshakes have their place — with friends and family. They have no business in the workplace. They reflect a lack of awareness and a need to be revered as “cool” not credible. Images of frat boys and football parties come to mind instead of experienced professional.

Brush Off — A handshake is intended to kick-start a meaningful connection. When shaking someone’s hand, be deliberate with your eye contact and don’t rush the exchange. Nothing makes someone feel like they’re unimportant or being blown off quite like shaking hands with a person in a rush or looking around at others.

Wet Weasel — We all get nervous and have anxiety before big meetings or introductions. It’s natural. What isn’t natural, however, is the feeling of contacting someone’s sweaty palms. So, if you know you are likely to have unusually wet palms, carry a handkerchief in your pocket to use just before an introduction. Also, you can wash your hands with cold water to help keep them cool under pressure.

Hand Hugger — We’ve all shaken hands with someone who uses both of theirs to embrace ours both top and bottom. While this is perfectly normal in a personal situation with friends and family, it’s out of place in a professional setting. You can convey a message of warmth with your eyes, smile and choice of words. There is no need to embrace someone’s hand in such a personal manner.

Shugger — This is a handshake that pulls the receiver closer to you physically, almost as if you were going to hug the other person. It forces that person to come closer as your hand stays closely tucked into your body. While this type of handshake is common among friendly colleagues and peers, it sends a message of favoritism to those on the outside looking in. Remember your handshake conveys a message to everyone, not just the person with whose hand you’re shaking.

Perfecting the Perfect Handshake

Practice the perfect handshake first by seeking feedback on yours. Ask someone you trust to help identify areas of opportunity. Then practice it on others to solicit feedback and more guidance until you’ve mastered the art. 

Some keys to the perfect handshake:

  • Anticipate the handshake. Ensure your hand is free, out of your pocket and not holding onto any items. Switching hands to shake is distracting and awkward.
  • Use your right hand. Even if you’re a leftie, our culture dictates right-handed handshakes as key.
  • Maintain a strong, confident posture. Remain upright and refrain from leaning. If necessary, take a step toward the person with whom you’re greeting. If you’re seated upon meeting someone, stand up before shaking their hand. This signifies respect to the person you’re meeting.
  • Make intentional eye contact as you greet the other person. Once your hand makes a connection, ensure your eyes connect, too. Use a kind greeting such as “nice to meet you” or “great to see you again.” Incorporate their name with your greeting to help better solidify your introduction. This interaction trifecta will warm up anyone with whom you connect.
  • Remain firm throughout the handshake. Grasp the other person’s hand with a firm grip without squeezing. Maintain the grip for two seconds before releasing. Don’t allow your hand to fall limp upon the initial grip.
  • Shake from your elbow, not your wrist. Two or three pumps will do. Any more and your partner will begin to feel uncomfortable.
  • You want to be so confident in your handshake style that it is second nature. Seeking feedback and frequent practice will help solidify your good habits, so you can concentrate more on meeting the person and less on the impression you’re making. The more comfortable you become, the more confidence you’ll convey.

Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author of Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday and Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Hanke and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl’s and AbbVie. 

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