Over two and a half thousand years ago, the handshake began as a gesture of peace. Today,
there’s no gesture quite as powerful as the handshake in creating rapport, showing respect and
demonstrating professional etiquette in Western cultures.
Nor is there a gesture more contentious. Handshaking spreads germs (yes, even more than kissing!)
and everybody seems to have a different opinion on how to do it correctly. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld
once summed up the problem perfectly saying, “There are absolutely no guidelines for handshakes…
too strong, too weak, sometimes they give you the three-quarter handshake – just the fingers. Early
release, late release, too many pumps, coming in too high, too sweaty, from too far away…” Oh, we
know his pain, don’t we?
Matters become even further complicated when you factor in gender. We’ve all been in a situation
where, in a group of men and women, the men automatically shake hands and the women instead
look sheepish, or give half-hearted handshakes. As a woman, your brain whirrs with questions like,
should I initiate a handshake with a man? Does a firm handshake with another woman come off as
aggressive? Oh, god, are my palms sweaty? Did that guy wash his hands?
The answer? Yes, no, maybe and probably not.
To be taken seriously professionally, women must absolutely engage in handshaking. These days,
women are exposed to more networking situations, and a greater emphasis has been made to target
the issues of gender diversity in senior positions, career opportunities and general visibility. So the
handshake works to even the playing field that little bit more by eliminating some disparity between
the genders. Women shouldn’t be afraid to be the first to offer their hand to a man or a woman, as
it instantly opens the communication lines and projects self-assurance and the desire to build instant
rapport with another person. If you are not naturally confident then it is a great way to help you
project that you are and also break the ice. For those who worry about germs, it’s best to just carry
hand sanitiser lotion.
A good handshake isn’t as easy as it sounds. How often have you experienced the “Wet Fish” (a limp,
cold, unemotional and sometimes wet handshake that conveys apathy), the “Cruncher” (an overly
strong grip that can be construed as aggressive) or the “The Palm Pincher” (only a few fingers and
thumb grasp the palm for the shake, sending a negative message).
In a well-executed handshake, hands are gripped firmly, eye contact is made, smiles are exchanged
and the hands make two firm shakes. It is customary to face the other person straight on and stand
about three quarters of a metre apart. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, then of course it’s
important to make a solid introduction of yourself during the handshake.
To project a confident image through your handshake, it’s important to put effort into grooming,
making sure hands are clean and moisturised and nails are manicured.
Being well-versed in the art of communication and following proper etiquette has the power to
give you an invaluable “one percenter” – that special something that sets you apart and catches the
attention of all the right people. Who’d have thought that a simple gesture of peace could be so