Get a Grip: Master the Handshake

handshake-1471563_640Technically, it’s called dexiosis. That’s the short ritual in which “two people grasp one of each other’s like hands,” typically the right ones. In most cases, it’s accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands.

What we refer to as a handshake is thought to have originated in ancient Greece. Ruins from as far back as the 5th century BC show soldiers shaking hands. Scholars believe the gesture began as a way for two strangers to greet each other in peace. Extending your empty hand for a handshake proved you were unarmed, and therefore not an immediate threat.

These days, handshakes are used in a variety of situations beyond an initial greeting. They can take place when parties part ways, to offer congratulations for an achievement, to express gratitude, or to seal an agreement. Handshakes are a staple of business interactions.

Despite the common use of handshakes, there remains a great deal of confusion about them. How tight should I grip? How long should I hold the other person’s hand before letting go? Should women shake hands? Uncertainty has resulted in a plethora of unsatisfying, even gross, handshake exchanges.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a dead fish, a clammy palm, or a bone-crusher, you know how easily handshakes can go wrong. Since a good handshake goes a long way toward making a great first impression, let’s clear up some misconceptions. Here are a few tips for delivering good handshakes.

  1. Anyone can initiate a handshake but, as the business professional, you should make the effort to recognize the customer or prospect and make the first move.
  1. Start and end business conversations with a handshake. The first serves as a formal greeting and a sign of trust. The second indicates agreement and a mutually beneficial conclusion.
  1. Make sure your hands are clean and dry. If you are prone to cold or clammy hands, anticipate the need to address it before extending your hand.
  1. Face the person directly with your shoulders facing theirs. Don’t approach from the side or attempt to shake hands while on the move.
  1. Assume the right hand will be used. Someone who needs to use their left will let you know. I have a friend with a prosthetic right hand. He’s always the first to extend his hand (the left) so things aren’t awkward.
  1. Extend your hand and make full contact with the other person’s hand, aiming for web to web contact. Avoid grasping just the fingers.
  1. Use a firm grip. Squeezing too hard doesn’t make you appear powerful, just disrespectful. A limp hand comes across as timid or nervous.
  1. Give two or three pumps and loosen your grip to indicate you are ready to let go. Shaking for more than a few seconds is generally considered awkward.
  1. Maintain eye contact throughout the handshake. Don’t look over their shoulder or to the side. This is usually when a stranger offers their name, so pay attention.
  1. The same rules apply whether shaking hands with a man or woman. Treat everyone with the same level of respect and professionalism.

There are a lot of customs that have somehow fallen out of common business practice. It’s rare that you see someone holding the door for another, using courtesy words, or shaking hands. Sad as this may be, it provides an advantage for those of us seeking a competitive advantage over the competition. Making use of good business etiquette is an easy way to stand out from the crowd. Use the power of a good handshake to signal you’re someone worth doing business with.

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