Monday, September 17, 2012

Business Etiquette—What Your Handshake Says About You

This is the first of a series in using four of the five senses to make a great first impression.

When you are meeting someone for the first time, you will be assessed often before you have a chance to say anything. It is important to understand what people see, hear, feel and, yes, even smell impact their first impression of you. All of this information is downloaded in seconds and is not easily erased, if at all.

Let’s begin with what people feel. Your handshake – the ultimate greeting.  A strong, powerful handshake is not bone-crushing or overly enthusiastic. It is a firm steady grip and is offered with sincerity, confidence and authority. 

Anyone who offers a “dead fish”, fingers only, clammy or otherwise wimpy handshake is seen as – wimpy. 

The two-handed handshake has its place and purpose. The two-handed or “preacher’s” handshake is often used by clergy, politicians, when offering condolences, and greeting the elderly and you want to give a softer handshake. It also has its place when greeting friends. Do not offer such a handshake when greeting for the first time in business. It will diminish your credibility.

Don't let this be you!!

How to be prepared:
Your handshake is an extension of your personality. It conveys a powerful message along with your words and body language. Here are a few, upfront preparations that will have you off to a great handshake.

Hands Must Be Clean, Groomed, Warm, Dry

Clean hands are expected unless you are shaking hands with your landscaper or mechanic while they are in the middle of working. Not only should hands be clean for aesthetic purposes but also for health reasons. Seeing someone sneeze into their hand and then offer a handshake is …well…disgusting. Clean includes fingernails.

Groomed hands mean hands that are moisturized and calluses smoothed out. If you have a condition that lends to warts or other scabs (yew!), seek remedies as these are definite turnoffs. Be sure nails are trimmed. Manicures, professionally or done at home are recommended.

Warm hands, cold heart or is it cold hands, warm heart? I say warm hands feel good! Unless you have just come out of the cold, be sure to offer up warm hands. That means keeping cold drinks (which also make your hands wet) in your left hand.

Dry is up there with warm. A wet handshake is as welcome as the “dead fish” handshake. Wet hands can come from cold drinks, ineffective hand drying or excessive perspiration. Carry cold beverages in your left hand and grab an extra towel to ensure dry hands. If your hands are overly damp from perspiration, consider applying anti-per spirant to your palms before the event.


Keep rings to a minimum. Zealous handshakes can make for painful handshakes when wearing overly large or multiple rings.


Shaking hands with someone wearing a cast or bandage is awkward and can be a turnoff. If you are injured, offer your left hand. The other person will understand and appreciate the gesture. They will also be happy to not worry about hurting you.

Now the Moment of Truth:

“I hate the giving of the hand unless the whole man accompanies it.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
  1. Be genuinely pleased, enthusiastic and happy to meet, greet and shake hands. Show these sincere feelings in your eye contact, smile and in the words you use to greet while shaking hands. Letting your eyes fall away while greeting with a handshake implies that you are not interested or something else is more interesting. People never forget how you make them feel. Anything missing from the package will weaken, if not prevent, a great first impression and will detract from an otherwise awesome handshake. To quote Helen Keller “I can feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake.” 
  2. Don’t wait for someone to offer their hand (be aware of cultures where handshaking is not customary). Gain the advantage and be prepared to offer your handshake first. Business settings are gender neutral so no need to see if a woman offers her hand first. 
  3. Stand up to shake hands. When seated you diminish your presence.
  4. Remove obstacles between you and the person you are greeting. Come around from your desk, table, etc. if possible. 
  5. To obtain a solid grasp, extend your hand -- fingers forward and straight, thumb pointing to the ceiling. Aim for the palm of the hand and connect web to web (that space on your hand between your thumb and forefinger). Apply firm but gentle pressure. Give 2 quick shakes from the elbow and release. 
  6. If the person with whom you are shaking hands lingers for a moment before releasing, take a cue and determine the best time to release. A few introductions may lend to a longer handshake but most of the time it’s just creepy to hang onto a hand too long. 
  7. When joining a group of people shake hands with everyone in the group. Do not exclude anyone lest they feel neglected. A simple wave or nod will not suffice – offer your hand! 
  8. Shake hands when saying goodbye. Say a few words such as “Great talking to you”, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you”, “Hope we can meet again”, you get the picture. 

Use the same warmth in your voice and great eye contact when saying goodbye and you will be someone people will look forward to seeing again—soon. 

Carolle Vargas is president of Your Etiquette Style, an etiquette and business protocol training company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  For more helpful hints regarding business etiquette, visit her site at


  1. Very good post on shacking hands when networking. Seems to be a lost art!

  2. I loved the blog, especially the photo of the "dead fish" handshake. Having to deal with a myriad of prospects and clients every week means bracing for an occasional bone crusher handshake, which is far more problematic than a dead fish. The worst thing is it isn't usually the bruisers who give you the crusher, in my experience it is usually the runts or even the occasional woman who lays it on you. You never know.

  3. Great blog, very eloquent and informative. I now know how to provide a better hands. Now all I need to do is practice! :D

  4. Nice blog.Thanks for giving such a nice information like how to shake hand in business For More Info: Business Etiquette America