What Does Your Handshake Say About You?

September 20th, 2019

At some point in the post-war 1950s, an age that left us with much of what we recognize today as “office” culture, handshakes evolved from a simple way of saying hello into a deeply nuanced and presumably meaningful form of communication.

It may have been JFK who initially infused the handshake with extra significance, or it may have been any number of self-appointed gurus who promised their audience a host of easy moves that could rocket them to top of the business ladder. But however it happened, a “firm handshake” came roaring into style. If you clutched your associate’s hand in a death grip, he or she would see you as a confident, commanding winner, an important person. Someone to be taken seriously.

But in the generations since then, we’ve all come to recognize handshakes as a form of performance and a transparent attempt to come off as winners, and we’ve all been trained to grasp tightly, just like Lee Iacocca (or whoever) told us to.

Because we’ve been taught to overthink and overperform our handshakes, there’s really only one rule for shaking hands in 2019: Don’t. If your handshake is noticeable, that’s no good. Keep your shake easy, breezy, and over. Here are a few simple ways to remove the focus from your hand and keep it on your face and voice, where it belongs.

Don’t clutch.

Pressure may have once conveyed confidence, but now it just conveys that you’re thinking really hard about the pressure of your handshake. Grip the person’s hand about as hard as you would grip the knob of a door that you’re about to open. Then release and move on.

Eye contact matters most.

Keep your eyes on the person’s eyes and smile. Repeat their name back to them as you squeeze their hand. Tell them it’s nice to see them.

A single shake and let go.

Shake once with warmth and eye contact, then let go. Don’t comment on the handshake. Don’t act impressed with its firmness. Don’t make a joke about the shake being limp or sweaty. Don’t apologize for your shake and don’t apologize for not shaking if you prefer not to shake. Don’t assume that a gentle handshake means a weak person, and don’t assume that a firm handshake means a reliable person. Assumptions like these are always wrong, and they rarely support clear communication; they only cloud it. The less said (and thought) about the shake, the better.

Don’t wipe your hand on your pants.

The reflex may be strong, especially if you’re nervous as you enter the encounter. But even if your hand comes away as clammy as a Florida swamp, wait five seconds before you attend to it.

Your associate should notice you, not your shake. Focus on the person and your relationship, not your hands. For more on how to stay cool and stay ahead, talk to the career pros at PSU.

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