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Handling the Handshake

By AllBusiness.Com – 08/12/2005 – 12:00am

Taken from Business Etiquette For Dummies, By, Sue Fox

Does a handshake really matter? Think back to the last time you got a limp handshake or a bone crusher. What impression did it make on you? Was it distracting? Disgusting? Shocking? Whatever your reaction, you probably weren’t feeling positive about the other person.

What a sloppy handshake says about the person behind the hand is that he or she just doesn’t have things together. And if you’re the sloppy shaker, you’re telling the client, boss, or interviewer that you have problems. That conclusion can lead him to make a subconscious decision that he doesn’t want to do business with you — or that you won’t make a good representative of his company.

The handshake is the physical greeting that accompanies a verbal greeting. Because the handshake is used universally in business, knowing when to shake hands and how to shake hands confidently is vital.

Getting the right form

What is a proper handshake? The act seems so simple, yet people get confused over how to do it.

Not shaking hands is a very clear form of rejection and is extremely insulting to the other person.

In the United States, you’re expected to offer a firm handshake and make eye contact at the same time. A firm handshake with good eye contact communicates self-confidence.

In U.S. etiquette, an appropriate handshake begins with the introduction:

  1. Extend your hand and grip the other person’s hand so that the web of your thumbs meet.
  2. Shake just a couple of times. The motion is from the elbow, not the shoulder.
  3. End the handshake cleanly, before the introduction is over.

If you want to count, a good handshake is held for three or four seconds.

Shaking hands can be awkward in some situations. Should you be introduced to someone when your hands are full, carrying files or other packages, don’t try to rearrange everything. Simply nod your head as you respond to the introduction.

Understanding the protocol of handshaking

When someone makes an introduction, always remember to stand (if you’re seated at the time) so that you can shake hands on an even level. That goes for women as well. However, if you happen to be seated at a table where reaching the other person is difficult or awkward, you don’t have to stand.
If you’re wearing a name tag, place it close to your right shoulder because that’s where a person’s eye naturally wanders when shaking hands.

If you’re having cocktails, hold your drink in your left hand while introductions are going around. Later on, you can switch to your right hand. You don’t want to fumble with your drink or offer someone a wet or cold hand to shake.

When to shake hands? The answer is, all the time. When in doubt, offer your hand. Shaking hands is appropriate when:

  • Renewing an acquaintance
  • Acknowledging someone who enters your office, cubicle, or home
  • Greeting a client, new coworker, host, or others you know or are meeting for the first time
  • Meeting someone you already know outside work or home
  • Concluding a transaction
  • Leaving a business or social event

In fact, because you should shake hands more often than not, the real question is: When don’t you shake hands?

You should avoid shaking hands when the other person has his or her hands full, and putting everything down to shake your hand would be a big inconvenience.

Another exception may be when the person you want to greet is someone much higher ranked than you and to whom you really have nothing to say. In this case, rushing up to shake his hand and introduce yourself would appear pushy.

Avoiding the clammy hand dilemma

When at an event involving food and drink, hold your beverage in your left hand to avoid a cold and clammy handshake. If one hand is holding a drink, and the other an hors d’oeuvre, you should put the hors d’oeuvre down if possible. If doing so isn’t possible, then simply nod your head in response to the introduction and apologize for having your hands full.

If you’re wearing gloves as part of formal attire, always remove them before shaking hands (the same goes for wearing gloves outdoors — you should take them off, unless the temperature is bitterly cold).

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