Handshake How To

handshakeYour handshake can leave a lasting impression - both good or bad. What does your handshake say about you? Do you even know? To help get a better grasp on this underestimated gesture, we spoke with body language expert and author of 'Knack Body Language,' Aaron Brehove, who told us that there is more to the handshake than just fingers and a palm.

"You are going to remember a bad handshake and a person you like. There should be no mention or comment of a person's handshake if your body language is perfect, because people will just remember how much they enjoyed the interaction," Brehove says.

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The history of the handshake

The handshake is an everyday occurrence used across the globe both in personal and business arenas for various reasons. It can be an introduction or a goodbye. It can be a nice to meet you or a sorry you didn't get the job. The handshake has been around for centuries and has been constantly evolving and changing with the times.

The handshake, as we know it, dates back to at least the 5th century BC where depictions of soldiers shaking hands can be found in ancient ruins. There are also hieroglyphs of people shaking hands, but many experts interpret these images as a transfer of goods or a gift. It is thought that as early as the Stone Age, people would transfer any weapons they may be holding to their non-dominant hand before extending their arm out and exposing their palm as a greeting that showed others that you were not aggressive. In Roman times, people would extend their hand and shake the forearm to ensure that their counterparts were not stashing knives in their robes or cloaks. The forearm shake became a way to prove during a first encounter with others that you were not a threat or danger, but rather a trusting friend. It quickly became a tactful way to greet others while protecting yourself all at the same time.

When the everyday act of stashing weapons in sleeves ended, so did peoples' need to use the handshake as a safety tactic, but it remained a common gesture practiced in our culture.


The handshake today

Today, the handshake is used as a formal greeting and can greatly affect both the image you portray and the way you make other people feel. For example, Bill Clinton is regarded by many experts as one of the best handshakers in the business.

When he shakes hands with people he pulls them into his personal space and holds their gaze until he finally moves on to the next handshake. In this way Clinton quickly creates a rapport by making eye contact with people and holding their gaze. "Holding people's gaze slightly longer than is typical is one of the attributes that makes people view Clinton as one one of the most charismatic presidents in recent times. By holding his looks for a fraction of a second longer, Clinton makes people feel important and valued. This is a very delicate and precise technique to perfect and he has mastered it," Brehove says.


How to give a good handshake

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so if you have the opportunity to shake hands with someone for a business opportunity when you first meet them, take it seriously -- because that initial physical contact with a potential employer can make or break you, since it conveys your attitude," cautions Brehove.

Here are Brehove's recommendations for perfecting the ideal handshake:

  1. A firm handshake is fine, but avoid the BONECRUSHER. This is not a strongman competition. It should not be painful to shake hands with you.

  2. You must speak clearly, loudly and properly. Your speech plays a vital supporting role in your body language and especially in conjunction with your handshake.

  3. Make eye contact because that is how someone will remember you.

  4. Be mindful of spacing and your torso position. Your torso should be turned toward the person whose hand you are shaking because it shows interest. It also shows that you respect the other person and value your interaction. Proper spacing between you and the other person shows that you are taking the time and putting forth the effort to deliver a good handshake. "It says that I am here for you and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done."


If you meet five people in a boardroom or other business setting, try to make eye contact with every person as you offer each a firm, ideal handshake, recommends Brehove. A little physical touching on the forearm or upper bicep is appropriate and can be used as a tool to show respect. Saying and repeating the names of those individuals as you are meeting them will not only help you remember their names, but it will send a message that you like the person and want to hear more about what they have to say.


How the handshake conveys personality:

The Bonecrusher: A person with a handshake that is too painful (squeezing your fingers until they crack) is often thought of as aggressive and slightly rude.

The Floppy Fish: A person who barely inserts their fingers into your palm when shaking your hand or who loosely grips your hand in such a way that your fingers slip around sends the message that they don't care or value your time.

The Upper Hand: A person who shakes the hands of others with their own palm turned towards the ground is clearly trying to assert his or her dominance.

More Telling Features

The Powerplay: A person who squares off their body as they shake the hands of others conveys an air of superiority, power and control. If they make eye contact with people as they shake hands, it can create an air of authority, like when a boss reprimands a subordinate.

"This is the perfect handshake taken too far. There is eye contact, but it seems more like a glare. The handshake is firm and controlled, but the other party feels almost dominated, " Brehove says. "If someone mentions the strength of your handshake ("Wow, nice handshake"), you're probably on the right path, but may want to back off a little bit."


Brehove's ideal handshake

A person who follows Brehove's recommendations will deliver a firm, moderately paced, two- to four-pump handshake where eye contact is made; speaking is clear and articulate; torso position is open and toward the other person; and spacing is appropriate for the situation so that there is enough time to extend your hand and deliver a good handshake. Be aware of the distance between you and the other person because it should not be so much, as to necessitate you reaching and showing your shoulder, says Brehove. (There is a reason the phrase "cold shoulder" has a negative connotation.)

So, on June 28, go ahead and shake things up a bit, now that you know what your handshake conveys about you.

Next: 10 nightmarish handshakes to avoid >>



Gwen Parkes

Gwen Parkes

Editor

Gwen Parkes is a seasoned writer and editor and a subject matter expert (SME) on healthcare and healthcare reform. She spends her days freelancing for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and various publishing houses. Parkes exercises everyday to cleanse her mind and find her inspiration- running and hot yoga are her current devices of choice- and she is an amateur chef and self-proclaimed foodie; she believes that good supermarkets are happy places, a good Pinot Noir goes with everything and coffee should be served hot, with cream and sugar and as frequently as necessary.

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Jim Palmer

I never knew there was so much to a handshake. I think this was a gerat article and subject matter. Aaron Brehove really knows his stuff.

July 01 2010 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Traci

I LOVE it. Fascinating. I will definitely keep this in mind as I am at networking events and in sales meetings. Great article

June 26 2010 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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