Shaking Hands – How Are You Doing It?
Shaking hands is a topic that I frequently bring up when speaking or training on networking skills.
It’s an overlooked aspect of the communication framework, in my opinion. And yet, it’s one of the first impressions we make when we meet someone new.
Without putting too fine a point on it, a good handshake will lead to further relationship development and a bad handshake won’t. It’s not really something that’s taught and yet it’s a fundamental skill for life.
I came across this quote which I think sums it up nicely.
“Handshaking is a valuable form of nonverbal communication. It is a form of interactive body language that offers insights into how the other person views the world, him or herself, and you. It is a vital, if usually subconscious, part of creating a first impression and sending a parting message.”
Robert E. Brown and Dorothea Johnson, “The Power of Handshaking”
Why is a Good Handshake so Important?
Well there are different stories told on this. Some that I’ve heard say that it’s a sign of friendship. Other, earlier stories are from by-gone times. It was thought to show that you didn’t bear weapons and were of no threat.
Whatever the origin, shaking hands is the most universal and culturally transcending way of connecting with someone.
What Do You Want To Convey
A good handshake conveys a lot of information. It says you are confident, competent and trustworthy. Now remember, this is what you want to convey.
Therefore contrary to this – a bad handshake does just the opposite and damages your reputation.
I was listening to the Science of Success podcast recently and a notion that stuck with me was that we tend to put all of our eggs into the verbal basket. I.e. in going into a pitch, an interview, a date, a board room presentation – we are so focussed on what we want to say, that we forget about how we are showing up and how we are projecting our body language. And this starts with the humble handshake.
How to Shake Hands
Let’s start with the mechanics. It’s not hard…but like everything in life, all is easy when you know how.
Your thumb should be directed up to the ceiling. Your little finger should be parallel to the ground. When you reach into shake hands, your full hand should be captured in the other person’s hand. The handshake should be firm, but not bone crushing, and never limp.
Present your hand as described above. It shows respect and equality in the relationship.
What Not to Do
- Don’t put your hand out with your palm facing the ground. This presents a power play and someone vying for dominance. You often see this in business deals and in politics.
- Don’t put your hand out with your palm facing the ceiling. This presents you as submissive. This not what you want.
- Don’t shake hands when your hands are sweaty. See my tips below for ways to deal with this.
- A limp handshake, you know the one – it’s like a wet fish and personally, it just makes me want to go have a shower.
- It’s not a finger only gesture either…it’s the full hand.
Many people get nervous and have sweaty palms. There are a number of things you can do here to help yourself.
- Before going into a room of people, go to the bathroom and run your hands under cold water.
- Keep a small bottle of hand sanitiser nearby. This can be in your bag or in a breast pocket of a suit.
- Breathing, meditation and affirmations can also help with this and I’ll be delving into these techniques in a separate blog.
Amazing Fact – We Have A Connection Hormone
When we hold eye contact, hug and shake hands with someone, there is a release of the connection hormone, called Oxytocin.
Did you know it would take nearly 3 hours of face to face contact with someone to build up a rapport with them, in the same 3-5 seconds it takes you to shake hands with another person. So much non-verbal information is passed along to the other person. It’s a time to build trust and build a deeper connection.
Eye contact is closely linked to this. The optimum amount of eye contact for a conversation is between 60-70%. Oxytocin is released as it’s the bonding hormone. Mutual gazing is part of building up the relationship with the other person.
If you’re at an event and someone’s eyes are gazing and shifting around the room, then the chemical connection isn’t happening and this is when we feel that that situation is inauthentic and where it gets uncomfortable.
This percentage can seem high, particularly for people who are introverted, shy, or in a technical arena…but awareness is the first step to improving eye contact.
The tipping point appears to be at 80% is too much eye contact, in case you were wondering.
Eye content at those percentages is based on western cultural norms. This isn’t the same globally. Sometimes eye contact in other countries is not deemed acceptable, so be mindful of where you are and with whom you are talking. Also, if you are talking with someone from another culture and nationality to you, be aware that social norms may be different and there is a learning opportunity here.
Men pretty much always shake hands when they meet each other.
But here’s the thing I often see in networking meetings. Women arrive to a group and they wave.
So ladies…I implore you. Please stop waving. Get comfortable with shaking hands with each other.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re not sure what your handshake feels like to another person, go to a family member, a friend, a trusted source and practice your handshake on people and ask for their feedback. This is simply too important a part of the communication framework to overlook and not practice.
Employers, prospective employers, team leads, clients, associates are all going to subliminally be taking in information about you. You want to convey the right message. You want to have a masterful and powerful handshake.
This applies to men and women by the way.
Always make time for the handshake. If you are holding something, put the plate or coffee cup down. Do not forego the handshake. It’s too important a part of your non verbal communication to let slide by.
Not adhering to these approaches can lead you to lose a job, a deal, an opportunity.
Is it really worth it? I’d say not!