International Business Festival 2018

LIVERPOOL 12-28 JUNE

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LET'S MAKE HANDSHAKES GREAT AGAIN

Ian Hughes
19 July 2017

Left? Right? Firm? Loose? Before? After? Both? Admit it, handshakes can be pure HELL.

Yes, they might seem like inconsequential pleasantries between polite business men and women. Simple off-the-cuff gestures. Nothing to worry about.

But make no mistake, the common handshake merely masquerades as an innocent greeting, when in-reality those two opposing palms are fully-loaded with failure potential.

You might wish to sign-off or say hello with a strong and assured shake of the hand but one wrong move can turn a warm welcome or goodbye into a wet blanket or limp-wristed disaster.

But overdoing it can be worse. Much worse. Unless you're a professional arm wrestler, squarely squeezing knuckles with a virtual stranger isn't a good look and can easily come across as desperate, domineering or even downright aggressive.

What else can you do? Wave? Nod? Duck? Weave? No. Let's face it, handshakes are here to stay. What you need is to learn how to give a really good handshake A proper handshake. One that's just right. Put your palms together (for now) and read our quick guide to getting to grips with a truly great handshake.

STRAIGHTEN-UP AND SQUARE THOSE SHOULDERS

A memorable handshake is never just about the hands. Posture also plays a part in delivering the optimum handshake. Just the act of standing-tall makes you feel ten times stronger. Project yourself well to create the perfect springboard to handshaking success.

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MAKE EYE CONTACT

Now people who are told to ‘make eye contact' usually take this too far, often turning a simple look into a transfixed stare and then trying to recover with shifty sideways glances. Our advice? Don't do that. There are two words to remember here. Brief and friendly. Good eye contact is a mere meeting of the eyes, not a hostile takeover.

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SMILE (LIKE YOU MEAN IT)

Not all smiles are happy ones. Some can be apologetic. Some nervous. Some so blatantly forced and weirdly stretched they remind you of a strained air steward waving off passengers after a grueling 24-hour flight.

Real smiles come with a little twinkle in the eyes and are neither Joker-like broad or schoolmistress prim. They're somewhere in between and make a persuasive partner when paired with a killer handshake.

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RELAX THE ROBOT ARMS

Shaking hands should feel like a human gesture, not a mechanical procedure. Don't lock your elbows in a creepy ‘draw them closer' kind of way or stand too far away as if you think you might catch something. Somewhere in the middle is just fine. Everything in moderation bodes well for a healthy but hearty handshake.

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TAKE A STAND, MAN OR WOMAN

Traditionally gents would stand to greet a lady, but nowadays it's a good idea to stand before extending your hand to anyone, man or a woman. This gesture looks courteous, demonstrates respect and puts you on the same level as the other person.

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SIDE-SWIPE THE SWEATY HANDS

Avoid a sticky situation by keeping your palms dry, either by keeping a tissue or hankie in your pocket or (slyly) pressing your palms against your trousers or skirt, if caught off guard.

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BE CONFIDENT – NOT CRUSHING

Now, this is the most important point here. Some people (and by ‘people' I mean men) think shaking hands is a great opportunity to beat their chest and show their strength. These people are wrong and their attempt to show their muscle has the opposite effect. (If you need to rely on a handshake to show people who's boss, you're not the boss).

Nobody wants a Donald Trump power-grab jolt (not even his base) so get a grip, but don't go overboard. If you're not sure how much pressure you should add to your grip, try to hold the person's hand as tightly as you would a cricket bat or baseball club before you take your swing.

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FIRM AND FRIENDLY (OR FOLLOW THEIR LEAD)

Interestingly, extroverts tend towards strong handshakes; introverts don't. So, to hedge your bets, never vigorously shake a person's hand, unless the other person is a shaker. If they are, shake the hell out of it, but remember a proper handshake isn't a play for dominance. It's a sign of sincerity.

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AS IF ON CUE…

If you want a really great handshake, you've got to consider timing. Many people avoid offering handshakes because they're afraid of being left hanging. To reduce the risk of embarrassment, don't offer a handshake if the person is engrossed in conversation with someone else and don't approach someone from the side with an extended hand, chances are they might not see you, so full on face-to-face is best.

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SAY SOMETHING

Handshakes go down better with a few simple words. Use the person's name and state an appropriate pleasantry – “Great to meet you, Sarah, I'll look forward to your email” - Audibly addressing the person first effectively gets their attention before you offer your hand, greatly increasing the chances of success. As for the handshake, itself? 2-4 seconds max. Anything longer could be a bit weird, anything shorter reduces the positive vibes associated with the act.

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WHO'S THE BOSS?

Traditionally the person in a position of higher authority or age should be the first to extend their hand. So, if you're interviewing for a job or meeting future in-laws, hang-fire and wait for the signal. If there isn't a signal try to read the situation and if deemed appropriate, politely extend your hand upon entry or exit.

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MIRROR THE CULTURE YOU'RE IN

The definition of a proper handshake can differ in the country you're in. Travelling abroad or meeting a foreign delegation? Do some handshake (or alternative greeting custom research) beforehand.

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PRACTICE

Got a job interview? Important meeting? Worried that you're not getting it right. Practice with friends or family first and ask for some frank feedback.

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IN CLOSING:

Now you might have been reading this thinking ‘A guide for handshakes!? – Really? Well, yes, really. According to a survey by Chevrolet, Seven in ten Britons are nervous about getting handshakes wrong and more than two thirds (70 per cent) of people said they lacked confidence when it comes to performing the gesture.

Whilst analysing interactions in job interviews, management experts at the University of Iowa declared handshakes “more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability”. Seven other university studies found that a good handshake can improve the quality of an interaction, producing a higher degree of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds.

Handshaking, in one form or another, has been with us since we stood up on our hind legs and started using tools. Man is a highly social animal and many of our first interactions with fellow humans start with the humble handshake, especially in business.

On average, people will shake hands 15,000 times in a lifetime. A creepy wet or desperately crushing handshake actually leaves us with negative feeling of the person who gave it, no matter how productive or positive the meeting or encounter was.

So, whether you're welcoming new neighbours or starting a new job, a handshake is a social convention that communicates a lot. Next time you're pressing palms with a stranger, put a little extra effort in to make it really matter.

Got that? Cool. Come on. Let's shake on it.

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