March 17, 2010

Three bad handshakes to avoid

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Before I go reinventing the wheel, I'd like to point you to a blog post by Rowan Manahan about handshakes. He links to studies from the University of Iowa and the University of Alabama that confirm the importance of a good handshake.

What exactly is a good handshake? And more specifically, why does handshaking etiquette seem to differ for women and men?

"'Having a firm handshake is important for making a good impression,” Chaplin said. “We found that men had firmer handshakes than women did, on average, but we also found that women who had firm handshakes tended to be evaluated as positively as men are. We thought this finding was interesting because often when women have characteristics that are more similar to men, they tend to elicit a somewhat more negative evaluation — simply because it’s counter to the usual stereotypes.'

So, what should women make of this?

'For women who are timid about shaking hands or who feel that handshaking is, traditionally, a masculine activity and who might not shake hands as firmly as they otherwise would, the message would be to go ahead and shake the hand firmly,” Chaplin said. “You make a great impression when you do.'"

To keep this post from becoming a tome, I'm going to address the three most common problem handshakes I encounter on a regular basis.

1. Four-fingered southern belle

I think we've all heard of and encountered the limp fish, and this particular version is almost exclusively a woman's handshake. Rather than nestling her hand thumb joint to thumb joint with the other person, like this,

the woman stops short and presents just her fingers to be grasped, right about at the mid-knuckle point. This would be appropriate if she were meeting Prince Charming at the ball and expecting him to kiss her hand. In a business setting, bad handshake.

Women, if you wish to be seen as unassertive and weak, this is one way to accomplish it.

2. Unfulfilled hand-kiss

This is the flip side of the previous handshake, where a woman (say, me) is offering her hand and expecting a healthy full grip, but the man grabs the woman's fingers instead.

I'll tell you why I hate this handshake. Because it makes me look like the bad shaker! It looks like I've offered the four-fingered southern belle, when in fact I was going for the full palm shake. Do over? I suppose there is some ancient etiquette behind this where women's hands were thought to be too delicate for a handshake, but that is way outdated.

Also, guys, if you do ever grab my fingers like that, I'm expecting the Prince Charming hand kiss. So unless that's your intention, let me get my hand in there, will ya?

3. Bone crusher

This one doesn't really need to be explained, except to say, "Ouch!" This is a business meeting, not a strongman competition. Guys, a handshake should be firm, not debilitating. If you feel the person's hand crumble inside yours, chances are you're breaking their bones. Lay off a little.

Here's what a good handshake looks and feels like.

Face the other person and put out your right hand with fingers facing forward and thumb vertical, as though you were going to saw a piece of wood. Your palm can alternatively be tilted slightly upward. Your wrist should be straight, not bent or limp.

Extend your hand while introducing yourself, and slide your hand into the other person's until the fleshy areas between your thumb and forefinger are touching (see picture above).

Grasp the person's hand firmly, but not violently. You do not have to prove your manliness here.

Pump hands one or two times. More than that and it seems like you're drilling for oil.

One hand is enough. Placing your left hand over the other person's hand can be considered a personal space violation.

If you don't know what kind of handshake you have, ask some friends to practice with you. You might be giving the southern belle or the bone crusher without even realizing it!

A handshake, a smile and an introduction combine into a single, first-impression-making act. Don't mess it up by presenting yourself as overly aggressive or less than assertive. In this case, it's always best to seek the middle ground.

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Leon said...

Hi Lisa,

I agree with the etiquette of a proper business handshake.

Where I've been flummoxed before is when I went into meetings with a client who knows a member (or members) of our team well. This starts what the British call the mwuah-mwuah (sounds of kissing both cheeks :) ) greeting/hug and left me a bit confused.

I didn't know the client so well and wasn't sure what was expected. The client was female which caused some more uncertainty.

In the end I offered a normal business handshake and spoke to my colleagues afterward.

Apparently the client spent some time on the continent (France specifically), and they just learned to do things differently.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

The mwah-mwah thing IS tricky! I always put my hand out and if someone dives in for an air kiss, I follow suit. But it's almost always awkward. Especially with some Europeans who do THREE kisses! I think we've stopped, but we're still going!

Monica Ricci said...

I try to be positive, so that means I don't dwell on "peeves" but THIS IS ONE OF 'EM! Argggggh the limp fish, four-finger shake just gives me the willies. Thanks for a great post and a reminder to those who don't shake firmly.

ps: One more thing that gives me the SUPER willies: HAND KISS. Ewwwwwww. Unless you ARE an actual Prince, just stop it, people.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Monica. I'm cracking up... I really don't want that hand kiss, either. So either shake my hand or HANDS OFF.

Speak Japanese said...

I lived in Japan for 10 years and really soaked up the culture. I would bow with the best of them. Now, back in my home country I often find myself doing a half bow or head nod when I shake hands.

It is a good thing that I do most of my business online.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I see more and more Americans adopting some form of a bow. I think a lot of people like it because it avoids the whole handshaking dilemma altogether. Not to mention some people are germaphobes...

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