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 Shaking Hands Not Heads (10/16)

The dead fish, the politician's double, the bone crusher, the twist, the top you, the finger grasp, or the premature -- what do all of these terms have in common?  They are handshakes, actually, horrible imitations of proper handshakes. 

What's the big deal about a proper handshake?  Well, if you've experienced any of the aforementioned shakes, you know.  And if you are guilty of one of those shakes, then perhaps a little history and how-to will help.

Legend has it, ancient Romans would clasp hands to indicate they held neither a weapon nor desire to do harm.  Hands were extended to show good will.*  Today, a proper handshake holds a similar meaning.  Times have changed though and a poor handshake can do harm. 

In most business cases (some cultural exceptions apply), handshakes are a socially acceptable way to connect physically with another human being in greeting, farewell, or to "seal the deal".  Oftentimes, this momentary grasp is a major part of a first impression.

When a friend scoffed at the idea of training business professionals to shake hands, I was not surprised.  Her argument, at this stage, everyone knows how to shake hands.  But do they?  Countless training sessions later, my well-meaning colleagues have proven emphatically they do not.

After all, for years I presented an uncomfortable bone crusher.  As an up-and-coming businesswoman, I was told time and again the importance of a firm handshake.  Mine was firm, really firm.  Until an expert in the field politely showed me the difference, I, too, thought I had it right.

So, what makes a proper handshake?  Simply remember to SHAKE:

S - Square off your shoulders, smile and make eye contact.  While some suggest approaching from the side may be less threatening, this casual approach doesn't show your full commitment to the other person.  Try it and see if you feel the difference.

H - Hands should be dry.  A quick clutch of a cocktail napkin or slide on your slacks can help.  Before leaving home, a quick spray of antiperspirant also can do the trick.

A - Attitude. Think positive thoughts. Leave your emotions of the day behind and focus on a positive meeting.  Slow down and focus.  Nervous energy or enthusiasm leads to awkward, premature grabs.

K- Konnect (OK, connect), web to web.  That's right, extend your hand and wait until the web between your finger and thumb connects with the web of the other person's hand.  Slowly wrap your fingers around the other hand then match the pressure.  If it is firm, firm up; light, lighten up.  Note, a proper, light handshake is far from a dead fish and actually preferred in many cultures.

E - Engage with two to three up and down pumps and release...not over and again as if pumping for water.

With a little practice / retraining (amongst friends), your handshake will be memorable for all the right reasons.  And remember, when faced with a dead fish or bone crusher, be gracious, smile and know the negative impression is not yours.   

The Power of Handshaking for Peak Performance Worldwide, Robert E. Brown and Dorothea Johnson, 2004, Capital Books, Inc.