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  • 29 January 2015
  • Dr Billy M.

Does the handshake still matter in business?

Hand shaking is a universal ritual of personal engagement and serves as both a social nicety and a prelude to more important business. If you are meeting a contact or a new client, the quality of your introductory handshake often has a big impact on how the other party views you.

Why shaking hands matters

One of the most significant elements in building successful business relationships is your ability to show sincere interest in a person. This can be communicated in your first few meetings as you shake hands and discuss the other party's background, family, hobbies, etc.

Although a handshake is certainly not a measure of a person, it does contribute to first impressions. Can a handshake enhance your brand?

By shaking hands, you make a positive first impression on the people you meet, which, in turn, influences how they feel about you going forward. Your poise, the manner in which you extend your hand, your degree of firmness, and your timing can all reflect your confidence and trust. The nature of your handshake invariably sets the tone for your relationship.

When meeting a business contact, a proper introduction should include a warm smile, direct eye contact, stating of first and last names, firmly shaking hands, light chit-chat to soften the mood, exchanging of business cards, and the ubiquitous, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

The purpose of a firm shake is to convey that you're open and outgoing. More often than not, a weak handshake communicates anxiety or reticence, which can lead to an unfavorable overall impression. Something as mundane as shaking hands can offer a glimpse into your actual personality, by which people will decide how to engage with you and your business.

Getting it right

Given that most people use their right hand for handshakes, you should shift any items you are holding to the left hand in advance. Keep in mind that sweat can make your hand feel clammy, so be sure to pat it dry ahead of time. Other things to consider include:

  • Firmness. How tightly you're squeezing the other person's hand may be subjective, but your grip should be firm, but not painful. Avoid being either overly aggressive or passive. Also, be sure to grip the other person's entire hand, not just their fingers.
  • Timing. Extending your hand first conveys confidence. However, if you're a man meeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. If you are seated, rise before engaging someone's hand. Do not close your hand prematurely, as you will inevitably only grab fingers and likewise, release when the other person does. If the other party wants to hold your hand for an extra few seconds, keep holding theirs as well. You don't want to rush out of the handshake, as this may suggest you're treating it as a mere formality.
  • Contact. In most instances, it's expected that you keep your hand perpendicular. Palm down is considered a dominant position, while palm up is submissive; so try to angle your thumb upward. Keep the palm flat, not cupped. Upon making full contact, lock your thumb down and squeeze firmly, then moderately shake from your elbow rather than your wrist.

    Although a handshake is certainly not a measure of a person, it does contribute to first impressions. As a business owner, you should include this practice in all your dealings. Not only does it transcend gender, race, and ethnicity, but it's also a key part of business etiquette that reflects certain personality characteristics. However, as with all professional interactions, the customs and practices of your audience may differ from typical American business standards, thus influencing how your handshake is perceived. So know your audience and shake with confidence!

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