Mastering the Art of a Solid Handshake

When I was in college, I worked in the first campaign of popular Indiana Congressman John T. Myers.  He was known throughout Indiana’s 7th district and in Washington for his crushing handshake which sometimes brought stars of pain to your eyes.  But the voters remembered him and reelected him 14 times.  I think of Congressman Myers every time I am greeted with a willy-nilly handshake.

Bad handshakes can de-rail a job interview before it even starts.  In fact, one study reveals employers are more willing to overlook body piercings than a bad handshake.  Meanwhile, a good handshake dubs individuals “most hirable,” according to a study reported last year in Life

I acknowledge that sometimes hands just don’t come together right, resulting in a weak handshake.  In those cases, I generally say:  “Let’s try that over again.”  It’s a pretty good ice breaker.

It is important for you to know what kind of handshake you have.   From Pamela Holland and Marjorie Brody, co-authors of “Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?”, here’s a list of bad handshakes to avoid and suggestions on how to make a memorable impression in that all-important initial greeting.   

To evade making a bad first impression, losing a business deal or simply embarrassing yourself, take heed of Holland and Brody’s 10 terrible grips to avoid:

The “macho cowboy”… is the almost bone-crunching clasp many businessmen use to shake hands. What are they trying to prove, anyway? There’s no need to demonstrate your physical strength when shaking another person’s hand.

The wimp… is usually delivered by men who are afraid to “hurt the little lady” when shaking women’s hands. Modern female professionals expect their male counterparts to convey the same respect they’d show their male colleagues.

The “dead fish”… conveys no power. While there’s no need to revert to the macho cowboy death grip, a firm clasp is more powerful than one that barely grabs the hand.

The “four finger”… is when the person’s hand never meets your palm, and instead clasps all four fingers, crushing them together.

The cold and clammy… feels like you’re shaking hands with a snake. Warm up your hand first before grabbing someone else’s.

The sweaty palm… is pretty self-explanatory, and pretty gross. Talcum powder to the rescue.

The “I’ve got you covered” grip… happens when the other person covers your hand with his or her left hand as if your shake is secretive.

The “I won’t let go”… seems to go on for eternity because the other person won’t drop his or her hand. After two or three pumps, it’s time to let go. “It’s a lot like a kiss — you know when it’s over,” Brody says.

The “southpaw”… happens when the person uses the left hand to shake because the right hand has food or a drink. Always carry your drink and plate with your left hand to keep your right one free for meet and greets.

The “ringed torture”… occurs when the person’s rings hurt your hand. Try to limit the number of rings you wear on the right hand to only one or two and be mindful of any that have large stones.

Three steps to a proper handshake

Some other things to keep in mind:

As you’re approaching someone, extend your right arm when you’re about three feet away. Slightly angle your arm across your chest, with your thumb pointing up.

Lock hands, thumb joint to thumb joint. Then, firmly clasp the other person’s hand — without any bone crushing or macho posturing.

Pump the other person’s hand two to three times and let go.

Six tips to an effective meet ‘n greet

  1. Stand up.
  2. Step or lean forward.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Have a pleasant or animated face.
  5. Shake hands.
  6. Greet the other person and repeat his or her name.

One thought on “Mastering the Art of a Solid Handshake

  1. Ron,

    Although some of the types of handshakes (i.e. “Dead fish” and “Four finger”) made me chuckle a bit, the blog really highlights the importance of a good handshake. I didn’t even think about what my handshake was like until one of my journalism professors mentioned the importance of handshakes during a lecture. I definitely need to practice mine more.

    Thank you for the reminder 🙂


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