Shake Like You Mean It!

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The handshake is a lost art. We fist-bump, high-five, chest-bump, give thumbs up, kiss cheeks, hug, and wave – but our etiquette has so devolved that shaking hands is now rare.

The handshake may be forgotten by many, but it’s not obsolete, nor is it extinct by any means. It is still the way professionals greet each other. It’s also great when you’re making a first impression to convert a stranger into a boss, mentor, colleague, companion, friend, or acquaintance.

The handshake can be traced all the way back to Greece in the fifth century B.C., if not earlier. Some theorize it began as a gesture of grabbing one another’s forearm to prove that neither person was carrying a weapon.

A person giving a weak handshake may be likewise perceived as weak, whereas a firm handshake connotes confidence. A crushing grip turns off everybody, as does a limp, “cold fish” handshake. Grasping only someone’s fingers is awkward. Equally awkward are wet hands, which could result from nervousness or a sweating condition known as palmar hyperhidrosis.

If you obsess over the approach, angle, grip, firmness, pumping, duration, and undocking, you may never want to meet anyone.

“Advanced” handshaking includes leaning in; patting the top of the other person’s right hand with your left, or resting it under their forearm, or using it to tap their shoulder or back; and asserting dominance by pulling the person into you (à la Trump). It’s very complicated, but don’t stress – it’s not necessary. Just keep your left hand at your side, not in your pocket.

For now, the basic handshake should look and feel natural. That naturalness comes with practice, and that’s what friends and family are for.

Business professionals expect that they will be greeted with a handshake, so be prepared:

  1. Smile, look the other person in the eyes, and say your name as you extend your right hand, with the thumb pointing upward and fingers pointed ahead. (Sorry, southpaws, but using your left hand can be considered disrespectful unless your right hand is disabled or holding something).
  2. Couple the crook of your hand with theirs.
  3. Continue smiling and looking at the other person while you apply grip pressure equal to theirs. Make the handshake firm, not crushing. During the grasp’s 2-4 second duration, your hand can remain steady, or you can move it up and down slightly – but not side to side.

A handshake isn’t a tug of war or cheerleading routine. That said, even the pros get it wrong occasionally. If a handshake happens to turn into a Three Stooges bit, laugh and have fun with it. Be self-deprecating so the other person doesn’t feel embarrassed. You’ll both do better when saying goodbye.

Lightly touching knuckles is not yet the norm, so look your new professional contact in the eyes and shake like you mean it.

Ferris Kaplan is founder of Best Of You Resumes.

Read more in Business Communication

Ferris Kaplan has been a marketing executive at large for-profit and nonprofit companies. He has a master's in journalism from the University of Southern California and teaches marketing at colleges. Kaplan founded Best Of You Resumes.