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How to Give a Good Handshake and Flaws to Avoid

Updated on March 22, 2018
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PSA for Handshakes

We’ve all been there. It’s a time to impress or be impressed. A moment of truth. These fleeting moments usually begin with a handshake. The handshake is a very important act of physical contact in professional and personal cultures. It can build and break relationships in seconds. The initial handshake can set the tone for the rest of the conversation and the final handshake can leave the receiver with a “closing statement” of sorts, about the recent interaction. This is a Public Service Announcement to make aware frequent faults found in handshakes and tips to enlighten on proper “shake-age” techniques.

The Clean Slate

First thing’s first. You want to make sure your hand is inviting and warrants a good shake. This means you want your hand to be clean and dry. If it isn’t then you are unrolling the mat for my first faux pas in shakes…

The Why?! Shake

A dirty handshake is only permissible if the receiver's hand is equally as dirty as the giver's hand.
A dirty handshake is only permissible if the receiver's hand is equally as dirty as the giver's hand. | Source

A. K. A. the “Why is your hand…?" shake. This happens when you go to get a handshake and you immediately get the feeling that you need to wash your hands. It could happen for a few different reasons all dependent on the tactility of the receiver’s hand and the hygienic disposition of the giver’s hand. These handshakes usually spark an inner monologue that beg the question, “Why is your hand wet?”, or “Why is your hand clammy?”, or worse still “Why is your hand so freakin’ sticky?!” This leads the receiver to focus on the cleanliness of his/her hand which is then transferred into dismaying thoughts about the dirty doer.

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Prep Work

The Why?! shake can be avoided with some simple prep work. Whether the sweat be from heat or nerves, you need to dry that bad boy off and keep it dry. When going to interviews, try to get to the destination at least ten minutes early to allow time to acclimate to the room temperature of the office and to go to the bathroom to wash your hands. If your hands are hot, run them under cold water for a bit. This will cool the temperature of your hands and hopefully keep any new sweaty outbreaks from occurring. Before you leave the bathroom, make sure you completely dry your hands. As far as sweat from nerves, why are you nervous? An interview is a chance for you to talk about yourself. Who’s better at doing that than you? (You got this!)

Get a Grip

The amount of grip or pressure applied is also an important factor in giving a good handshake. The giver should want the receiver to know that they are interested in the proceedings and although it may not be accurate, the receiver will be drawing personality conclusions about the giver based on the handshake. Don't be a proponent of the following:

The Dead Fish

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The Dead Fish handshake is when the receiver gets a limp hand to gab. This is the biggest dud of all handshakes. When someone gets one of these the situation is immediately awkward because the receiver usually does not know what to do with it. The only way it could be more awkward is if two Dead Fishers shook each other's hand. (I would be interested in seeing this transpire. Would it dawn on them just how gross it is?) It feels like shaking a limp noodle. Characteristics that come to mind during a Dead Fish shake are insecure, flaky, and distant. These are not qualities that present a good first impression. If you are a Dead Fisher - Stop! Squeeze back. Let the other person know that you are there and engaged in the moment.

The Lobster Claw

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In a good handshake, there should never be a moment when the receiver is confused as to how to grab the giver's hand. The Lobster does just that. This shake occurs when the giver presents a hand that is turned palm down with fingers curled toward the palm. The only way to grab this is with the receiver's fingers cupped around the inside of the giver's fingers and the receiver's thumb pinching, like a lobster claw, the backside of the giver's fingers. The Lobster is generally given by women, but to be fair, I have received it from a few men and here is what I have to say to the lot of you... Unless you're going to follow up with a curtsy and a date, I am not having it. Some people think it is endearing, but I view a handshake as a chance to put people on a level playing field. Show the receiver the same amount of respect that they are showing you. Step up to the plate and grab on.

The Vise Grip

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Although it is awkward to not have enough pressure applied don't think that it is acceptable to jump to the other end of the spectrum. As mentioned before, handshakes are opportunities to put new acquaintances on an even playing field. It is not the time to show who the Alpha leader is. The Vise Grip handshake happens when the giver tries to exert dominance over the receiver by squeezing the ever-lovin'-daylights out of the receiver's hand. This shake style is only acceptable if it is known that the receiver is a Vise Grip shaker as well or if they too have a creatine smoothie in their left hand.

Pump, Pump, Pump It Up...and Then Down

The amount and direction of the pumps in a handshake is the last hurdle in reaching handshake Nirvana. Like the other steps, sounds simple enough, but, since this is a PSA, it should be mentioned.

The Lumberjack

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Some shakers go with a side-to-side or in-and-out movement and it appears like they are sawing a log. Well, most people aren't lumberjacks (and that's ok) so just stick with the up-and-down movements.

The Water Pump

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Some shakers don't know when to stop shaking. They continue to pump as they wrap up their final words, even after the receiver has loosened their grip, with no end in sight. If left to continue pumping, the giver may actually cause the receiver to spring a leak...a leak of tears as they scream to the heavens, "When will it end?!" Knowing when to stop is crucial.

What is your least favorite handshake to receive?

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The Trifecta: Presentation, Grip, and Pumps

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Once you have a clean, dry hand these are the steps to a proper handshake:

  1. Acknowledge the receiver with eye contact and a smile.
  2. Present your right hand so the fingers are pointing forward and the palm is facing toward your left.
  3. When reaching for the receiver's hand, be sure the webbing (i.e. adductor pollicis, the area located in the corner of your thumb and forefinger) makes contact with the receiver's webbing before attempting to grip. (Not a lot of things are as emasculating than the "Premature Negotiator". You want to give the receiver the chance to grip your hand too rather than the giver gripping a handful of fingers while the receiver stands there helpless, unable to give a proper grip back.)
  4. Apply a gentle yet firm squeeze. Strong enough to say "I am confident in myself and enthused to meet you." But soft enough to let the receiver know that you don't view him/her as an enemy.
  5. Pump your hands up and down. Try to keep the number of pumps to a maximum of three.
  6. Release hand. (Make sure you don't forget this one.)

*High fives, fist bumps, and handshake-hugs are very personal greetings that should not be attempted in an interview or the initial meeting of someone.

Give 'em a Hand

A handshake can reveal how the giver perceives himself/herself, how the giver perceives the receiver, and commitment levels to a budding relationship. A good handshake shows that you have a grip on things, so to speak. It is a great way to introduce yourself and make a first impression, but you only get one chance to do it right. How are you going to be remembered?

© 2018 M D Ephraim

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