Posts Tagged ‘communication by handshake’

In our last article we talked about the importance of having an unremarkable handshake, one that people do not remember.  It shouldn’t be too long nor too short, neither too firm nor too soft.  Now we’ll see how the handshake fits into a smooth, professional business greeting.  First let’s build a proper business handshake.

A good handshake has eight key parts (don’t worry – – – they are easy to learn and to remember once you practice them a few times):

  1. Distance from other person (cultural) – – – stand 2 to 2½ feet apart in North America and Western Europe.
      • Any closer may be awkward and that can affect the handshake.
      • Any farther apart causes stepping into the greeting (appropriate when meeting a group of people but not one-on-one).
      • If seated (and able), stand up to greet the other person and shake hands
  2. Make eye contact just before the hands meet, then very briefly glance at the hands, to avoid a miss!  Smile FIRST, then glance at the hands, and then join hands.  And keep the smile throughout all the handshakes and into the subsequent discussions.  Avoid the linked “pump-smile”.  You know, where the fake smile starts when the hands first touch, lasts during the hand-pumping, then instantly evaporates when the hands separate.  That sends a message of insincerity and pretension.
  3. Relax your upper and lower arm and wrist so that when the hands meet, the other person feels no tension – – – the arm should move back and forth easily, to let the hands gently bump together in the initial grip and then find a comfortable mid-point in the space between the two people.  The subliminal message here is “I am relaxed around you and you have no reason to be tense around me.  I am friendly.”
  4. Join hands web-to-web, getting the hands firmly against each other without slamming them together.  If the other person is too fast on the draw and grips your fingers instead of your hand, stop, break the handshake, saying something like “you were too fast for me”, and then reengage the hands.  Under no circumstances allow another person to get a limp-fish or fingers-only handshake from you.  You cannot risk them concluding that it is indicative of your personality.  As awkward as it may be (and it usually isn’t, really) break the handshake and do it again.
  5. Drop your thumb around the other hand and wrap your fingers up snugly around the other hand.  If you have a very small hand in comparison to the other person’s, do the best you can.  Avoid at all costs a tense, straight-fingered handshake which uncomfortable to experience and sends a message of a person who is anxious or uptight about something.
  6. Gently squeeze the other hand, slightly lighter when meeting a woman but NOT when you ARE a woman.  More on that in a moment.
  7. Engage in two to four small pumps from your elbow, using only your forearm, while saying an appropriate greeting
      • Nice to meet you
      • Thanks for taking the time to meet
      • Good morning/afternoon/evening (when you can think of nothing better)
      • John speaks very highly of you (only if it is true – – – somebody may ask John what he said)
  8. Release the grip and (in Western business culture) step or lean back since the comfortable handshake distance is closer than the comfortable conversational distance

After the handshake is broken if an awkward silence begins, say “I have a card here somewhere . .” and dig one out.  It is a good ice breaker.  (In a future post we may discuss the card exchange ritual and how it differs in the US, Europe and Asia.)

We recently watched the Presidents of Russia and the USA on television as they shook hands at the end of a strategic arms treaty signing.  The US president’s arm seemed relaxed and his elbow was bent at a comfortable angle.  But the Russian President’s arm was straight out!  This was not caused by the difference in the height of the men.  The Russian had stepped back to begin the handshake, putting him too far away from the US President and he then closed the distance not by stepping closer but by extending his arm.  That made it impossible to offer a relaxed hand and wrist, an essential part of a comfortable handshake (see tip # 3 above).  I wonder what the US President thought when the Russian offered him his tensed hand and wrist, perched at the end of a taut, stiff, locked arm!  I might have concluded that I had scared the Russian stiff!  And maybe he had.

There are exceptions to the above rules and injury is one: An injured right hand is certainly a reason not to shake right hands.  So extend your other hand!  I have shaken left hands many times with folks who had sports/other injuries (even a nail gun wound on one occasion).

An irrational fear of germs is another reason not to shake hands.  Some extremely introverted and/or germ-phobic people really dread handshakes and avoid them at all costs (visions of Howard Hughes and Howie Mandel?).  But anyone who avoids shaking my hand needs to be sniffling and complaining of flu-like symptoms, so I know they are worried about infecting other people with whatever malady they have.  And if that same person, over time, always seems to avoid shaking hands with anyone, always blaming a new infection or injury, that may indicate severe introversion, a psychological aversion to touching other people or some other psychiatric/pathological issue.  Nice to know if you are considering doing business with them!  But if the person just avoids shaking hands with you, then the two of you may have some issues to iron out privately!  Either way, the handshake is the key indicator of much deeper issues.

Women’s handshakes deserve special mention.  The days of ladies being expected to offer limp handshakes are over.  Men and women expect firm handshakes from women, period.  And ladies, do not squeeze too hard since this can be perceived as overcompensating for the stereotyped woman-in-a-man’s-world.  Just cultivate a firm handshake using the guidance here.  And gentlemen, mirror the grip of the lady, offering the same level of strength and grip.  And remember that ladies’ hands are often smaller than yours and her fingers may not make it all the way around your ham-sized hand!

The two-handed handshake:  we sometimes see people adding their other hand to the handshake, putting it either atop or underneath their primary hand.  This seems to be more common in the southern US than in the north.  In an earlier time it was used to show very sincere appreciation but it is now mainly used at funerals to show deep sympathy.  We suggest it not be used in normal business circles: it invariably takes the other person by surprise and they are then unsure whether to add their own second hand to the mix and if so, where.

Cheek-Kissing, where people alternate 2-4 left and right bumpings cheek-to-cheek, is making a comeback in some circles and here we suggest you just go with the flow.  Continental Europeans seem to do this to Americans just because they know it completely confuses us and we blush and mess up the direction our head should go and look silly.  But give it try.  Turn heads to the left for the first “kiss” and then alternate.  The worst that can happen is an exchange of facial make-up.  But if you absolutely do NOT want to try it, as you approach the other person, just extend your hand for a handshake.  That sends a clear message.  (Be advised that Belgians and people in show business may also simultaneously lip-smooch the air each time the cheeks touch.   I never even try this – – – coordinating the cheeks and the heads is hard enough for me.)

Hugging upon greeting or parting is acceptable among friends and long-time business acquaintances.   It is usually done instead of a handshake so decide early-on if that is what you will do with someone and then when the time comes, open both arms so the hands are at least shoulder-width apart and at waist level to signal your intention to hug.  Then step smoothly into a brief embrace.  And here is a subtle but important point: Usually hugs occur last, after you have shaken the hands of all the other people you with whom you are not as friendly.  This is so you don’t inadvertently insult subsequent people who might now also be expecting a hug but instead get a handshake.

Order:  Shake people’s hands in order of the most senior person first, followed by anyone who helped arrange the meeting, then everyone else’s.  Save close associates and friends until last so you can hug them if desired.

Practice your personal handshake style with colleagues and friends.  And then an hour later ask them what they remember about your handshake.  If they reply “nothing” then that is perfect.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Leader driven harmony #1: Communication by Handshake

by Mack McKinney on December 3, 2010

Introduction to This Series

This Series is about life and business.  We will discuss tips and techniques to enhance your business; reduce your stress level; simplify and strengthen your relationships with work colleagues, family and friends; in short we are going to show you ways to smooth out your business life.

Our family has lived and worked in a lot of places in the US and Europe.  In the US we have lived in the northeast, the mid-Atlantic and the south. We have also lived in Germany and I have spent lots of time in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  I have done business with people from the US, Europe (western and eastern), Asia, South and Central America and the Middle East.  We have worked in small villages, medium towns and large cities.  From these places and the people I’ve known and worked with, I will be bringing you world class, time-tested, practical business tips and techniques.  We have cherry picked only proven, best-of-breed techniques from successful business and government professionals.  And we will concentrate on timeless lessons and tips that span multiple cultures and are applicable now and for many years to come.  Our first topic should be of interest to anyone doing business anywhere – – – the business handshake.

Communication by Handshake

Studies have shown that people decide how they feel about you – – – basically what kind of person you are and whether they will trust you – – – within the first fifteen seconds of your first meeting.  One study found that this decision is often made within the first eight seconds!  Wow.  Think about that.  In less time than it takes to read this sentence, a person you have only just met will judge your trustworthiness and character, based on . . .  well . . . what?  On the flimsiest of “evidence” that’s what.  Let’s see what information you are “telling” people about yourself during those initial seconds.  What can they possibly experience about you in those few seconds?

Studies of interpersonal dynamics estimate that communication between individuals is 70% non-verbal and only 30% verbal.  Humans have extremely heightened senses when first meeting other people.  We primarily use four organs to stream information to the brain:  Our eyes, ears, nose and skin.  What decisions are people making in those first few seconds?  In addition to the trustworthiness decision mentioned above, people often reach almost instantaneous conclusions about your personal hygiene, general health and level of fitness, honesty, self-confidence and friendliness.  What gives a person the cues they use to make these decisions about you?

  • Handshake
  • Body posture
  • Body odor
  • Personal appearance (clothing, shoes, appearance of teeth, breath, hair, make-up, skin condition, facial hair)
  • Eye contact (or lack thereof)
  • Smile (or lack thereof)
  • Your spoken words (content, delivery, accent, pitch and grammar)
  • Physical distance you put between people

We’ll discuss each of the above “messages”, what each communicates and how to manage them all, in upcoming weeks.  But let’s start with one incredibly important “transmission” that you can change, if needed, right away – – – your handshake.  Once you know what you are communicating with your handshake you can easily change what it says about you.  In fact, the handshake is probably one of the easiest impression-makers to change.

But first let’s dispense with two common myths especially rampant among Generation Y-ers (aka Millennials):

  1. “Handshakes are for old guys.  They don’t really matter these days, not like they used to anyway.” Wrong.  They matter very much in the business world, especially in the US and Western Europe.  It is true that handshakes were recorded in ancient Egypt but even today business is still based upon trust.  And handshakes can communicate trust.  Gen-X-ers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists take handshakes very seriously, many of them without even realizing they do so.  If you don’t think your handshake matters to others, it probably won’t.  Because YOU won’t matter much to others.
  2. “My handshake is _______ [fill in the blank yourself – strong, quick, etc.] but it is just my style. And I like it that way. It reflects my unique personality and sets me apart from others.” Wrong.  If your handshake is odd in any way, YOU will be seen as being odd and odd people don’t get much cooperation in the business world, which is still based fundamentally on trust.  Let your excellent work or your conversational skill or something else set you apart, not an odd handshake.

A predictable, firm handshake is an important tool in business, in fact, in life, in general.  A handshake is over in a few seconds yet it helps us reach a number of conclusions about the other person.  We tend to take our own personal handshake style for granted, not giving it much thought.  Yet surveys of thousands students attending Solid Thinking’s Concept Development and Project Dominance courses over the years paint a very different story:  About a third of the handshakes we have experienced from course attendees since 2004 are … well… odd.  They are memorable, which is not good.  You do not want your handshake to be remembered by the people you meet.  Your handshake is part of the entire impression that others get when you meet them.  It is part of a person’s overall impression of you and you do not want it to be remembered any more than your teeth, body odor, hairstyle, tie color, cut of your suit or anything else.  In our courses we critique each attendee’s handshake style, what it “says” about them, and then we correct it as needed.  (And we do it in such a way as to be non-threatening and without causing embarrassment).

People draw several conclusions about you just from a brief handshake:

  • Too strong a grip is often interpreted as you trying to prove your strength.  Savvy business people also recognize that a too-strong grip can mean just the opposite as well: a weak person disguising their weakness behind an artificially strong grip in a handshake.  So a weak handshake can signal either of two things, both opposites and both bad.
  • Too weak a grip (offering the limp-fingered “fish” handshake or not wrapping your fingers completely around the other person’s hand) indicates you are a weak person.  In the US, Western Europe and the Middle East, this weakness can be perceived of men or women, young or old, from any culture.  And don’t think that appearing weak is just a good negotiating ploy, encouraging the other person to underestimate you.  It doesn’t work – – – the impressions a handshake provides are often subliminal.  People don’t even realize why they have a certain impression of a person after the handshake, just that they do.  Don’t risk being labeled weak or ineffectual from a limp handshake.  (More on the woman’s handshake, both giving and receiving, a bit later).
  • A handshake that lasts too long is interpreted as a sign the person will be “clingy” in any upcoming relationship (business or personal).  When you feel the other person let go, let go.
  • A handshake that is too brief often says the person isn’t interested in a relationship with me (wants out of here).  People expect a handshake to last a minimum of 3 seconds unless there are several people shaking hands in which case 2-3 seconds is acceptable.
  • A person who rotates his hand over mine, with both our hands going from vertical to horizontal, is saying that he is probably going to be difficult to deal with (at best overly dominant and aggressive and at worst pathological)

We want a “normal”, predictable handshake because that tells others they will be dealing with a normal, predictable person:  a firm handshake is perceived as belonging to a reliable person who “offers no surprises”; the right duration (3-5 seconds) tells us the person is interested in us but not overly so; direct eye contact means the person is more likely than not to be honest and sincere; and a sincere smile indicates a friendly person.

In the next post we will describe the eight simple parts of a solid, professional handshake and how to fine-tune yours.  We will also talk about hugging and cheek-kissing in place of handshakes, including when (and how) to do them without embarrassing yourself; the special rules for shaking hands with ladies and much more.  After reading the upcoming second half of this article you will have much greater confidence when meeting people and, with just a little practice, you’ll have a new tool in your social skills toolbox!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation