Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What does your handshake say about you?

zblog readers: While I am away at trial helping attorneys better communicate to a jury, I thought it was time to get the M in ZMF involved in the blog. My partner, Pat McEvoy is taking my place this week as your resident communication expert. I'll be back next week ...Theresa


We make impressions on the people we meet in the first three seconds. What does that usually cover? Introductions and handshakes. In the first three seconds you have the opportunity to make a good first impression or a bad one.

If someone taught you how to shake hands well, congratulations. Most of us just started doing it unconsciously and continue doing it well or badly. There has been a lot written on the importance of touch, the rituals of meeting, the anthropology of handshakes. Here are the Cliff Notes.

So, what makes a good first three seconds? Here are the eight parts.


  1. Look someone in the eye.
  2. Say your name.
  3. Repeat their name. Act like you are glad to meet them.
  4. Put your hand out where they can see it. Eagerly, not a limp noodle.
  5. Try to engage as much palm as you can.
  6. Grasp firmly, but not tightly. As firm as they are then a click more.
  7. Move hand up and down one or two times.
  8. Let go. Eye contact again.

Here are the two common mistakes:

  1. Limp grip. Ever shake hands with someone who gives you two or three limp fingers? Very unsatisfying.

  2. Vertical instead of horizontal hands. Men sometimes do this when they shake women’s hands. They hold the hand like they are going to kiss it. The woman should make the first move and put her hand out with the thumb straight up. That sends the message nonverbally, “I am not afraid and I’m coming in for a good handshake.”

There are many variations of handshakes and it is fun to watch for them.

  • The double handshake: one person puts the other in a hand sandwich. The effect is warm and sincere and the reason is you can get more palm contact that way. Sometimes both people make hand sandwiches—showing even more sincerity.

  • Holding the hand after the shake. Usually this feels very intimate or like special meaning is intended.

  • Looking down during the handshake: this communicates lack of confidence or you don’t want to meet them.

  • Looking around during the handshake: this communicates arrogance. You are too busy and are looking for a more important person to meet.

  • Variations on the power lock: one person puts the non-shaking hand on the forearm, upper arm or shoulder. This can feel warm and friendly and it can feel like they are jockeying for power. In general, powerful people touch less powerful people much less than the reverse and it can feel like the power locker is pushing you around. Lyndon Johnson was said to be a master at this.

Still think handshakes are minor details? It could mean the difference between getting the job or not—and may say a lot about your personality.

So, what handshake variations have you observed? Did anyone ever teach you how to shake hands or was it do-it-yourself?

5 comments:

Rebecca said...

This was certainly a popular topic in business school. But before that I remember my high school english teacher commenting about how a new student had a firm handshake and looked him confidently in the eye. I noted what an impression it made on him and vowed to pay attention to my own handshake in the future.

Another good tip. Always wear your name badge on your right side when at a networking event. As someone shakes your right hand their eye will naturally fall on your name. If you say your name aloud while they are reading it, they should (in theory) be able to remember it more easily.

Anonymous said...

Never received any formal training ... would have been nice to have some along the way.

Must admit I hate the wet noodle shake ... feels like you are tossing around a piece of spaghetti. I always wonder why hasn't this person ever been told they need some serious handshake coaching!

Kristin said...

Perfect timing for National Handshake Day which is June 28th!
Thanks Pat.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Thank you Pat, for filling in. We teach our boys to shake hands before they can walk. They love it when they get compliments on what good handshakes they have as little boys and young men. Theresa

Steven Clough said...

Great post. It always blows my mind when people (especially in the business world) can't perform a simple handshake. It makes such a dramatic first impressions.