Posts Tagged ‘greeting’

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