What your handshake says about you

It’s the first impression; the best chance to make a statement without an utterance. But despite its hype, the question persists: are you really judged by your handshake?

If you ask former Labor leader Mark Latham, the answer would almost certainly be yes. It was his infamous bone-crushing handshake with then prime minister John Howard, on the night before the 2004 election, that sent every fence-sitter in the country into the voting booths determined not to hand him the top job.

Similarly, in the business world, perception is important and a handshake can make or break your chance of landing a deal or help build that career-changing connection.

After all, it takes nine seconds for most people to make a judgment about a new acquaintance, according to business etiquette expert, Jodie Bache-McLean. “Most of that impression is in your handshake,” she says.

Perfecting the shake is about using the correct technique, and understanding when to use it.

Bache-McLean runs a busy Brisbane business etiquette college, started by a doyen of etiquette, June Dally-Watkins.

The right time to use the shake is “almost always”, Bache-McLean says.

In the modern business environment, the old etiquette of the junior waiting for the senior – and the woman waiting for the man – to initiate the exchange is out the window.

Rather, a hand extension in business is essential and those who wait for an invitation are perceived to be lacking in confidence.

A handshake is the best way for those in the corporate world to build that all-important instant bond with each other, Bache-McLean says.

“When people in business connect their hands it says: I respect you, you respect me.”

Extending your hand without hesitation is a key to making that connection because it communicates your interest and attention.

So after delivering that fearless extension, getting the shaking technique is the next step. Common consensus among business etiquette experts is that a good handshake:

  • Is firm, but not bone-crushing
  • Lasts about three seconds
  • May be ‘pumped’ once or twice from the elbow; and
  • Should be released after the shake, even if the introduction continues.

Make sure you move your hands past the fingers and into the other person’s palm, Bache-McLean says. It is important to find balance: approach someone from an equal level – avoiding trying to dominate, and also avoiding the ‘wet fish’.

“I could come across someone who is highly qualified but a wet fish handshake will leave me thinking: Is this the right person?” Bache-McLean says.

Surprisingly, eye contact is considered the most important aspect of the handshake. It communicates undivided attention. Bache-McLean explains that people often extend their hand, but get distracted and divert their eyes. This creates a barrier as the person automatically feels you don’t respect them.

“If this happens, you need to reclaim the moment,” says Bache-McLean.

“Go back and say: ‘I’m sorry, let’s try that again.” This is reassuring: there is always a second chance in the field of handshakes.

This article first appeared on LeadingCompany.

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