How to Shake Hands Professionally – Top Tips for the Perfect Handshake
7th October 2011 by Rachel Willis
It’s the business greeting of choice. Many of us do it on a daily basis, some so much they barely even notice they are doing it. It’s a relic of our ancient past, heralding from a time when tribes meet under friendly circumstances holding out their arms with exposed palms to welcome each other with no weapons on display!
Although we’ve been shaking hands for thousands of years, it’s amazing how some people still haven’t mastered the art or understood why it is so important.
I take part in a lot of meetings; meet new people regularly both on-site and in our studio, and I also do the odd bit of networking too. I would consider myself to be a regular hand shaker and I’m lucky, because I was taught the art of the perfect handshake at a young age.
In my first role as an Account Executive I was taught one great skill by the MD at the time; how to shake hands professionally.
I was asked to be part of a pitch team (I was asked to carry the bags actually, but you have to start somewhere!) As part of the team I would have to shake hands with the potential new client that we were pitching to. With the panic of dropping the bags and sitting on the edge of proceedings like a mute lemon, I thought the hand shake was the least of my worries – wrong!
The MD asked me into his office, this was the first time I’d met him face to face. As I entered he held out his hand. I shook it. He looked at me and held his hand out again, again I shook it. He then looked at me and said ‘I can sum up how confident, professional and trustworthy you are in 3 seconds. Your hand shake suggests you’re weak and submissive. Would you trust someone who’s weak and lacking in confidence with your business’?
I was pretty shocked, but I knew the correct answer. ‘No’ I replied. Then over the course of the next hour he taught me how to shake someone’s hand and introduce myself properly. It was a simple lesson, but one that’s made a huge difference to my working life.
In business a good handshake can make a great first impression. When you shake hands you’re transmitting a message about yourself. If you shake hands with someone who gives you a weak (wet-fish) hand shake, then you automatically assume this person is submissive and you’re more powerful. If you shake hands with someone equally (you match each other’s pressure) then you automatically feel comfortable and pretty equal too.
Weak handshakes drive me nuts! It’s the ‘wet-fish’ ‘limp wrist’ ones that I find the worst and I have to say that the main offenders are women. Maybe some women think it’s more feminine to shake hands by literally placing your hand in someone else’s and letting them shake it – well it’s not. It’s awkward and unprofessional. I can guarantee that people who shake hands in this way won’t be taken seriously by men or women.
But equally some men need to lay-off too. The bone crunching handshake I’ve received by some men (the type that when you have a ring on can literally break a finger!) comes across as arrogant, difficult to deal with and deliberately overpowering too. (A tip for if you find yourself crippled by such a handshake is to place your left hand on top of their right hand - It always throws a dominant handshaker.)
I could go on, but ultimately my message is this; your handshake says a lot about you. First impressions are vital and more than 55% of communication is non-verbal, and your handshake can have a massive impact on both of these. People make automatic assumptions about you when they shake your hand. So, if you want to get ahead in business you better make it a good one!
Practice your hand shake with a partner, colleague or friend. Practice matching the pressure of other people’s handshakes. That alone will make you a good hand shaker. I’ve received compliments on my hand shaking in the past, especially from men. When I shake a man’s hand I always apply slightly more pressure than I would normally. I’ve received comments such as ‘that’s a great hand shake you’ve got there’ and ‘that’s a firm hand shake.’ I do this because I want to imply right from the start that I mean business, that I’m confident and that I can be trusted with peoples’ business.
You can agree or disagree with what I’ve said but the fact remains the same. Would you rather a wet fish or a confident right hand woman (or man obviously)?
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