Got Handshake? The Silent Communicator

Got Handshake? Forward to the Bone Crusher & Limp Fish in Your Life

It’s stealth. It’s power. And it’s at your own fingertips. Forward to the office staff and print for the kids at home, for we have ten suggestions for handshakes done right. Pictures included! 

1. Stand for handshakes. Unless you’re physically unable or cannot move within the confines of space (at a booth in a restaurant, for instance), handshakes are offered and received in an upright stance.
2. Know the rules of handshake initiation. I’m frequently asked which gender should first extend their hand. In business situations, gender is irrelevant. What matters, however, is a person’s organizational rank. Generally, a handshake should be offered by the person of higher authority to the person of lower status. Examples? The Director of HR extends to the job candidate, the dinner host to the guest, and my department head (Hiya, Teresa) to any communication students who happen to drop by during office hours (sometimes surprising me with a diet Mountain Dew ; they know their prof and I like the Dew).

All this said, I’m on record as saying there’s room for adaptation, flexibility, and a slight bending of those rules you might find buried in the pages of etiquette books. One CEO confided that when someone extended a hand to him first, he viewed the gesture as a bold move, signaling confidence and assurance.

(Off topic, but must be said; the man above so charmed me with his smile and confidence I put him on my website for my “First Impressions” seminar description. I don’t know who you are, Sir, but you are bee-yoo-ti-ful).

3. A proper handshake begins when the web of your hand meets the web of another’s hand. The “web” is the curved expanse of space from the top of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. Once connected, shake several times while maintaining direct eye contact. Sounds simple and yet surprisingly, not always done.

I’m Catholic. I also score high on “affection” levels of personality profiles. You won’t be surprised, then, to learn that I eagerly anticipate the part of service where I shake hands with fellow congregants while saying these magical words: “Peace be with you.” I notice that while people connect with me through touch, their eyes have already moved onto the next person in the pew. While we may be touching, we are not authentically connecting. Catholics! I beseech; eye contact, please.

Churches aren’t the only place that could use improvement. Take corporate America. Take, let’s say, the common occurrence of a group introduction. Most people shake hands with person A while their eyes have already moved onward to Person B. You’re missing out on an opportunity to create a genuine human connection. Remember that handshake + direct eye contact = best impact.

Here’s a visual of what not-to-do. This picture was taken directly after a local political debate. If this isn’t a disconnective handshake, I don’t know what is. Notice that while the two candidates’ hands are touching, every other nonverbal cue reveals their true disconnect.

4. Offer a firm handshake. Firm, I suggest. The key is solid warmth; not debilitating misery. In an attempt to convey confidence or perhaps to even signal dominance, some people overcompensate and press too hard. There’s a difference between firmly-applied pressure and forcibly-inflicted pain.

Observe the chart to the left.  Our aim is the third diagram on the right. Your web meets their web, reasonably firm pressure applied, direct eye contact engaged, an authentic smile displayed, the person’s name pronounced correctly (my last name is Loo-CHOE-knee, by the way), and we’re in business.

5. People shouldn’t hurt for your fashion. Oversized rings worn on the right hand can deeply press into your partner’s skin, triggering physical hurt. The image consultant in me recognizes that larger-scaled cocktail rings are the current fashion trend. Wear them, but perhaps do so on the left hand. That way, you’re on-trend without causing people pain. Attractive and aware; always good manners.

6. Consider age and health issues. My parents are in their mid-seventies and while my father would scoff at this next statement, the simple truth is that some elderly hands demand more delicate treatment. In fact, some people suffer from illness and their weakened state precludes dramatic pressure. A good rule of thumb while your thumb’s a part of Operation Handshake? Follow the other person’s lead.
7. Use a handshake to reap the halo effect. The University of Alabama conducted a revealing study you should know about. Info is power and all that. Notice the positive and negative associations affiliated with a handshake done right or conversely, wrong .

A Man’s Weak Grip: Anxious & Shy
A Man’s Firm Grip: Extroverted & Self-Assured

A Woman’s Weak Grip: Introverted & Insecure
A Woman’s Firm Grip: Confident & Assured

8. Are your handshakes in the Handshake Hall of Shame? Delight in our accompanying photographs. Recognize these guys?

Avoid the fingertip touch handshake as seen on the left. Is there anything worse? Communicating passivity, submission, and an aversion to working hard, the touch-fingertips-alone handshake is the kiss of death.
The two-handed handshake is not your best bet when meeting someone for the first time. Rather than suggesting connection, it can imply one-upmanship. Politicians are famous for the shake-with-one-hand, cover-with-another hand and-depending on context-it may work for them.

I use this same handshake at the end of the quarter with some of my students. The extra hand is not a power play; rather, it is my sincere desire to further connect with them through additional touch. For me, for my job, and with my personality, it works when I’m in teacher mode on UC’s campus. But would I use with the CEO of a company for our first meeting? That’s a negative, Captain.

Part Three: The Fist Bump may work with your friends as you assemble outside Buffalo Wild Wings. But, but in corporate America, it’s a no-go, unless it’s a situational behavioral norm. I’m not saying not to use it; I’m saying use it wisely and well.

9. Offer your hand after an introduction has been made. My past habit has been to extend my hand ASAP, even while the introducer is in active introduction mode.  Regrettable consequence? I’m so busy presenting my hand I don’t catch the person’s name, which is the whole reason for this process.  I now wait before I present my paw. My former bad has become my current good.

10. Fortune 500 executives were once asked to name their biggest “turn-offs”. While I understand the number one response (arrogance), my heart dropped at the second (a sweaty handshake).

That lame advice to wipe your hands on your pants? Come on. Get real. You have additional options. Botox is one selection that several clients have used and adored, although it’s not inexpensive and must be repeated every several months.  Some may see this as a radical solution.  To the contrary, if you’re one of the estimated 2% of Americans who suffer from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the body), this can be a lifesaver.  Explore, please.

While Botox is used for sweaty hands, there are two antiperspirants you should know about for underarm sweat:  Drysol and Certain-Dri antiperspirants.  I’ll never forget the student who complimented me on end-of-quarter course evaluations.  She wrote that after four years of college, knowing this product existed was some of the best tuition money she ever spent. 

 

No article on handshakes would be complete without a quote from a woman worthy of awe and admiration: Ms. Helen Keller. Helen might not have been able to see polished clothing or observe the warmth of an authentic smile. She’d know handshakes, though, wouldn’t she? “I can feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake,” she’s been quoted to say. I ask: Can others say the same of us?

S?  This post is for you.  Thanks for your support and inclusion.  LML

© 2009-2011 LisaMarie Luccioni The Image Establishment, All Rights Reserved

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About LisaMarie Luccioni

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Cincinnati, LisaMarie is a professor of communication of twenty years in its College of Arts & Sciences. She maintains the unique distinction of possessing a dual teaching assignment: instructing an expansive range of classes to its Department of Communication while simultaneously teaching business etiquette and professional image in its College of Business. She is the recipient of myriad prestigious teaching awards and has been honored with quadruple citations as both a UC Professor and Woman of the Year.

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