Regardless of Title, Your Shake is Your Brand

Ick Handshake.jpg

A few years back, after weeks of shopping for a new car, I finally decided to pull the trigger and called a salesman with whom I’d been talking. I liked this guy: He had been persistent but never pushy, knowledgeable but not a know-it-all, and in the end he gave me the best price. When we finally inked the contract, we both smiled and stuck out our hands to shake.

And that’s when I almost called off the whole deal. Rather than delivering a warm, firm grip, that reinforced my impression of this successful and confident businessman, he awkwardly clutched my four fingers and lightly, well, squeezed.

If you’re thinking “Ick,” then I’ve described it well.

While I kept the car, I can’t erase the memory of that less-than-reassuring final gesture that instantly–maybe unfairly–made me question the whole interaction.

Of course handshakes and greeting rituals vary across national borders. But when it comes to shaking here in the U.S., the guidelines are pretty straightforward–and fairly rigid.

“Your handshake is your brand and should not vary from men to women,” says Bluestone’s Certified Etiquette Instructor Danielle Kovachevich. “In fact, because you’re making physical contact with another human being, this isn’t the time to get creative or else you might catch your counterpart off guard.”

So, Kovachevich says, regardless of job title, we all should review a few guidelines to ensure our handshake is appropriate and professional. Here's her advice:

  • Our right hand should be in a vertical position with the web area between thumb and index finger firmly touching the web area of the recipient.
  • We never bend the wrist or grip only the fingers.
  • We keep our grip firm, but not bone-crushing.
  • For a professional handshake, we give two smooth pumps (from the elbow, not the wrist.)
  • For a more social handshake, we give about three smooth pumps. 
  • A good handshake should come with good eye contact.
  • We avoid giving a cold, wet handshake by keeping our drink in the left hand.

Bottom line: No matter our line of work, our handshake is a critical physical demonstration of our professional brand. When we’re meeting people for the first time, our handshake can determine whether the conversation, relationship or sale moves forward. When we end an interaction, it determines the feeling with which we send off our counterpart.

“If you’re not sure if you’re getting it right, try out your shake on a few close colleagues or relatives, checking the guidelines above,” says Kovachevich. “It may seem like a big investment in the smallest of gestures. But in reality, it’s an investment that will pay dividends every day for the rest of your life.”

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.