Never underestimate the power of human touch in making connections with people. In North America at least, the handshake is the standard for physically greeting someone so it is in your best interests to do this well. I also want to offer a basic tip: when in doubt, offer your hand and the sooner the better. I know of very situations where offering to shake hands will be interpreted poorly so it is actually "safer" to offer to shake hands than not. So – let’s get started with a few simple tips to help you perfect your handshake.
First of all – don’t be shy about extending your hand. Many people wait for the other person to initiate. Why? Being the first one to extend your hand demonstrates confidence and an interest in engaging in a friendly encounter. Don’t be shy – extend your hand.
When you do extend your hand – be aware that your palm or the plane of your hand should be in a vertical position. I am not sure how true this is but I know people who believe that if the hand is extended palm up – then you are indicating a weakness or an interest in being subordinated or taken advantage of. If you extend your palm facing more downward, it can be seen as dominating or aggressive. Again – I am not sure how true this is but if you keep the plane of your palm completely vertical – you avoid the possibility of any misinterpretation.
The next big thing is to make sure that you actually grab the hand and not the fingers. The “finger wiggle” is anything but a satisfying handshake. Ideally – you are shaking someone’s hand palm to palm and the best way of ensuring this happens is to ensure that the web area between your thumb and index finger is touching the same place on the other person’s hand. A note of caution – in some cultures that do not use the handshake as the standard greeting – a finger grab and wiggle is often offered. Be aware of this and gently slide your hand up to the proper position. Trust me on this – it will feel more genuine and positive for both parties if it is done gently.
Please note that the palm to palm contact is just as important for women – don’t settle for the weaker and less fulsome finger wiggle.
Now I also need to say something about “The Grip”. It is not a contest to see who is the stronger. Ideally – you should match and ONLY match the grip of the other person. This is especially true for older people who may have arthritis or some other joint pain. You will not be making any friends if you squeeze their hand painfully so – pay attention.
As to the shaking – two pumps up and down will do it. I have seen people shaking their hands for fifteen to twenty seconds at a time because neither party knows how to withdraw. This is crazy – and it seems like an eternity. So – two modest pumps up and down and then withdraw. An accompanying statement such as: “It’s nice to meet you”, or “It’s nice to see you” are also good clues that the handshake is over and the conversation is about to start.
Another key point here is to look the person in the eye when you are shaking their hand. Ideally – as far as you are concerned, they are the only person in the world at that point in time – you are completely focused on them. This focus will have an impact!
Many people are gazing around the room looking for their next target while they are shaking the hand of the person in front of them – how rude! You are greeting someone and “seeing them” as a magnificent and interesting human being. Don’t be gazing anywhere else but their eyes.
Key point to men when you are shaking a woman’s hand – you are only looking into their eyes. Do not – I repeat, do not “size them up”! This is ignorant, rude and you will be making a very poor impression. It is okay however to notice a woman’s jewellery above the neck line. Something very simple such as: “I really like your earrings”, or “that is a very unique necklace” not only can get the conversation started, but also is quite enrolling. Another note of caution – don’t express your personal preferences yet! It is not a good time to say: “Oh, I don’t really care for nose piercings”. Yes you are entitled to your opinion but this is not the time to be stating it.
If all this sounds complicated – use a “success buddy” to practice. Practice, practice and practice will allow you to shake someone’s hand like a true professional networker without even thinking about it – and there is nothing more natural than that!
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