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The Art of the Handshake

It’s common practice in many cultures to greet someone with a handshake. However, sometimes a friendly handshake can turn into an awkward experience. Learn to shake with confidence with Modern Manners Guy’s top 3 tips.

By
Richie Frieman,
March 31, 2013
Episode #242

 

When you first meet someone, you want to make a lasting impression. Sure, you can look good, smell nice, and have the brightest smile in the world, however, undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in making a lasting impression is how you greet them. And in many cultures, the formal and traditional way is by shaking hands.

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Although the handshake dates back centuries, many people still can’t quite grasp the art of the proper handshake (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little). Some people grip too hard or too soft, some rattle your hand like a Polaroid picture, and some keep it stiff as a statue. And don’t get me started on people whose handshake feels like gripping a wet sponge. Yuck! But have no fear because today I’m going to let you in on my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips to the art of the proper handshake:

Tip #1: The Wet Handshake

We all sweat. It’s just a fact of life. The more we pretend that we are among the select few who never perspire, the more we look foolish. And one of the main things that can cause stress (and therefore sweating) is meeting someone new and knowing you will have to shake their hand. We’ve all encountered a person whose handshake made you feel like you needed a shower when it was done. Nothing turns people off more than a sweat-filled handshake. I know, I know, I’m with when you say, “But Modern Manners Guy, I can’t help it! I’m a sweater!” Me too. Sadly. But I’ve learned to get around it with this a few slick moves (okay, this time, the pun was intended).

When you shake someone’s hand, you want to feel confident and not draw attention to your handshake at all. You want them to look at your face, not squirm at your soaking wet hand. For this, I use a trick from a magician called “Sleight of Hand.” This is a set of techniques used by magicians to manipulate objects such as cards or coins, secretly. In the handshaking world, you can use this technique in a few ways:

  1. Keep your hand in your pocket, and when you know you’re going to shake someone’s hand, make sure to wipe it off on the inside of your pocket as you pull it out.  

  2. When you know you are about to greet someone or shake their hand, place your hands behind your back (a very gentlemanly and lady-like maneuver), and before you reach out for the shake, wipe your hand on the back of your pants or shirt.

  3. When you are carrying a drink, always carry it in your left hand, (with a napkin around it) so that you can shake someone’s hand with your right – dry – hand.

The key to avoiding a moist handshake is making sure you wipe your hand off before you shake. You can’t always stop the sweating so you have to get creative without being noticed. You never want to wipe your hand in front of someone – that would look rude and sloppy.

Tip #2: The Hardy Handshake

Here’s one myth: Bigger and/or stronger people have heavier handshakes.

Wrong.

A handshake has nothing to do with the size of the person. Sure their actual hand may be much bigger and make yours look like a toddler’s, but in this case, size does not matter. A handshake is a controlled action and a hardy handshake has nothing to do with the actual hardiness of the person. It’s an expression, people, not something to be taken literally. A hardy handshake expresses confidence and firm contact, not feel like you’re trying to break someone’s hand.

When someone violently and unpleasantly shakes your hand, you will remember that about them for the rest of your life. Seriously. I have a colleague (we’ll call him Bob) who shakes your hand like he’s trying to rip it off. The first time I met him, another colleague warned me about this hard-shaking tendency. I was sure that my friend was exaggerating, so when I saw Bob coming my way, I was eager to see for myself. Man, oh man, was he not kidding! Bob shook my hand like he was getting ready to Judo toss me across the room! I never forgot that about him and every time I see him, it’s the only thing that comes to mind.

When you shake someone’s hand, you only bend at the elbow. Do not put your shoulder into it like a running back trying to break through a defensive line. Grip their hand, palm on palm, lay your fingers out naturally, and give it two shakes moving only your forearm up and down. It should be smooth and methodical. Then let go, and move on.

Tip #3: The Cupper Handshake

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and they cup your hand with their other hand? It’s sweet, right? As long as their hands aren’t moist like in Tip #1 or will give you whiplash like in Tip #2. Let me say that I’m a fan of cupping someone’s hand when I shake it, if (and only if) I know the person well and am doing so as a comforting technique.

Cupping is not meant for the first initial greeting. That should only be done with one hand. However, sometimes with a close colleague, friend, or family member the cupping method is ideal. It says, “I’m really glad to see you” or “I missed you!” It’s a gentler, softer side of the handshake. But you need to make sure it’s done with the proper touch so as to not create ambiguity or discomfort.

When you cup someone’s hand during a handshake, there are 3 factors to consider:

  1. Always have a dry hand. If you know you are a sweater or have moist hands, do not cup someone’s hand with your two clammy paws like it’s a handshake sauna. That’s gross.

  2. Eye contact. Eye contact is key in any handshake. You never look down at a handshake, you always look at the person’s face. So when you cup their hand, they know you are being much more informal and more connected. And always smile too! Smiling is like the icing on the cake to every handshake.

  3. Don’t overextend it. The worst thing with any handshake is overextending it. That’s when things can quickly go from familiar to uncomfortable. Like I said earlier, you give it two – maybe three – shakes and call it a day. Even if you’re talking to someone while you shake their hand, when you cup it, it will get hot in there so you don’t want to feel like the person has to ask for their hand back!

Do you have a great story about improper handshaking? Post all the details in the comment section or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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