6 ways you should NEVER shake hands

Handshakes are an important part of our professional (and personal) life. Getting it wrong can create awkward moments and detract from a good first impression.

(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2014. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)

You meet someone, you shake hands. But instead of the solid, firm and confident handshake you expect, you get a limp fish, a crushing gripper, or a sweaty slip.

Getting your handshake wrong is a surefire way of making a horrible first impression. Some common handshake mistakes are:

1. The sweaty slip. Some people have sweaty hands, and many get them when they are nervous; that’s just normal. It can make shaking hands tricky in stressful situations such as job interviews. However, there is no excuse for a wet handshake. When I get sweaty hands, I simply dry them on a piece of clothing before shaking someone’s hand.

2. The limp fish. Not gripping the other person’s hand firmly enough and then shaking from your wrist is a big mistake because it sends negative messages: “I am not confident,” or, “I am a pushover.”

3. The pinch. When someone pinches your fingers with theirs. The queen does this, perhaps, but it has no place in real life. Again, this half-hearted handshake sends signals like, “I am not bothered about shaking your hands properly,” or, “I don’t think you deserve a proper handshake.”

4. The hand-holder. Where the person keeps holding on and is actually holding hands with you rather than shaking hands. After more than three shakes, my instinct tells me to pull my hand back and say, “Let go; why are we holding hands now?” My mind is then preoccupied with forcing myself not to pull my hand away, so I am no longer concentrating on the introduction or anything the other person is saying.

5. The avoider. Someone who doesn’t make eye contact or pulls his or her hand away too quickly. This again signals to me that they are either under-confident or very shy, or they don’t really want to meet me or shake my hand.

6. The crushing gripper. When you shake someone’s hand and they are crushing every bone in your hand. A handshake that is too firm will make anyone feel uncomfortable. It makes one think, “Is the person trying to hurt me on purpose?” It also triggers the “I need to run away” instinct.

For me, all of these show that the person shaking my hand lacks basic social skills and emotional intelligence. It might be that people are not really aware of how they are shaking hands. The good news is that you can change it.

A handshake should include these elements:

  • a confident attitude,
  • standing up with good posture,
  • a smile,
  • your hands interlinking at the web (the part between your thumb and index finger),
  • a firm grip (not too limp, not too strong),
  • eye contact throughout,
  • shaking two or three times from your elbow,
  • and then letting go.

Last, but not least, there are cultural differences and customs to consider. What I have said here is appropriate for most of the Western World. However, I am regularly doing business in Asia and the Middle East, where protocols can be different.

I have learned that people in China prefer a gentler handshake, that in most Islamic countries it is not always appropriate for a man to shake hands with a woman, and that people in Thailand don’t like shaking hands at all.

I found this video about the top 10 bad business handshakes amusing; I hope you enjoy it, too:

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

(Image via)


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