Handshakes - it's time to man-up!

July 09, 2015

Upon entering our meeting room I greeted a young man in his early-20s. He was interviewing for a client service position and I had already been warned that he looked "nervous". I strode into the meeting room, acknowledged him warmly and extended my hand in greeting. In return I received what I can only describe as a cold, clammy, "wet fish" type of handshake. The cold and clammy I put down to nerves and quickly dismissed from my mind, but the "wet fish" impression lingered throughout the interview.

Handshakes have been around since at least the 5th Century BC. One thought is that a handshake was a gesture of peace, indicating that the hand held no weapon. Today we shakes hands to greet, congratulate or seal a deal. In Western culture, a firm handshake implies power, strength and confidence. A weak handshake implies weakness, uncertainty and disinterest.


First Impressions

We all know that first impressions do count, and there has been a myriad of articles written on mastering the perfect handshake. Whether you are interviewing for a new job, meeting a new client, or just greeting your peers, the harsh reality is that you will be judged (sad, but true) by how you look, what you say and what you do in those first moments. Given that a handshake will inevitably be required, I am astounded that so many handshakes (from both men and women) are incredibly weak.

In the interest of making your first impression a positive one, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get a grip. A handshake should involve a "grip" action, not just placing your hand on top of someone else's hand and moving your arm up and down!
  • Pressure. No-one wants to experience the "wet fish" handshake. Nor do they want to meet Boris Break-Bones either (try explaining that injury to your doctor!). Somewhere in the middle should be just fine.
  • The eyes have it. Look the person you are greeting in the eye. This confirms you are engaged, interested and invested.
  • Smile. A genuine smile during a handshake helps to establish trust and puts the other person at ease.
  • Watch the timing. It's difficult to make a handshake too short in duration, but one that is too long could be borderline creepy.
  • Cultures and customs. Different cultures may be more or less inclined to shake hands. For example, in some countries (e.g. China and Japan), a weaker handshake is preferred and the handshake is held for longer. When in doubt it's best to be guided by the locals. 
  • Germs. Germs and skin infections can spread incredibly quickly via handshakes. That doesn't mean you stop doing it, you may just like to wash your hands afterwards - especially after a busy networking event!

Should women shake hands?

It wasn't that long ago that it was more common for a man to kiss an extended female hand rather than shake it. These days it's a given (in Western business dealings) for women to shake hands just as much as men. You'll just need to be aware that some cultures discourage handshaking between men and women, so, "when in Rome"...


Ditch the wet fish

Ladies, please toughen up when it comes to business-related handshakes. A firm handshake doesn't make you "masculine". Instead, you'll appear assertive and self-assured, and it will help you to make a good first impression.

Men, it's time to man-up for the sake of your personal brand, client relationships and manhood in general. The world needs more confident handshakes, so it's up to you. Don't let us down!

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