Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to Shake Hands - By the Numbers

It is amazing to me how many people don't know the basics of shaking hands, either because they've never been taught, or they don't think it important.  Let me clue you in - first impressions last the longest, and there is not much that comes first in a meeting than the handshake.  Doing it right can advance you to the next steps of your meeting, and missing it can derail things before you get started.

So how does one best shake hands?  Just remember a couple of numbers:

One - As in one target and one target only: the web of your hand needs to hit the web of the other person's hand.  Period.  If something happens and you end up with too much of the fingers, adjust and meet the other person's hand correctly.  They'll appreciate it.

Two - As in two eyes.  Look the person in the eye and smile.  Always.

Three - As in seconds.  Your handshake should last no longer than that.

45 - As in degrees.  Stand directly in front of the person with whom your shaking hands, and have your arms come out 45 degree angles to meet in the middle of you.  That will keep you at the proper distance from them as well (getting too close while shaking hands is a no-no).

50 - As in percent of grip.  Consider your tightest grip possible, and cut it in half.  That's about what your grip should feel like to your recipient.  Another way to think about it is the old golf grip axiom - pretend you're holding a squirming baby bird.  You need to control the bird, but not crush it.  Note that for older folks, you should temper your grip as shaking hands for folks with arthritis can be quite painful for them.

90 - As in degrees.  Your arm should fold to a 90 degree angle, and you should shake hands at mid-torso.  Not at the chest, and certainly not at the waist.

That's it - remember these six numbers and you'll have a successful handshake.  Some other thoughts:

  • Practice!  You have other people critique your resume or review your presentation.  Ask someone you trust to evaluate your handshake and provide you with candid feedback
  • Never shake left hands, unless the person with whom you're shaking hands does not have use of their right hand and offers their left.  If your arms are full and the only hand free is your left, take the time to free up your right hand and shake hands properly.
  • Germophobe?  Get over it.  The world (at least the United States) shakes hands; it doesn't wave or fist-bump.  Carry anti-bacterial hand lotion with you if you need to do so, but shake hands.  
  • Leave your left hand out of the equation and keep it at your side.  Don't grab the other person's shoulder or arm with it, and absolutely do not cover up their hand that is shaking your's with it.  Those are awkward power moves, and people do NOT appreciate them.
  • Do not pump up and down like you're using an old water pump.  A slight up and down motion, staying respectful of the three second rule above, is all that is needed.
  • Remember that the handshake is also your last impression.  It is nearly as important to execute at the end of your meeting as it is as the start.
Did I miss anything?  Feel free to post up.

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