The Handshake: A Business Approach

As we mature from our high fives, chest bumps, and those extravagant handshakes that would lead you to believe someone is suffering a seizure, to the more appropriate and socially acceptable handshake, it is imperative people know how to pull off this all important non-verbal gesture successfully; as well as know what is acceptable in a variety of business environments.  Certainly high fives and chest bumps still have a place in our “inner-child” or “inner-fan”, but I don’t advise them when greeting a business client or your future boss (for the first time anyway…).

Shaking hands is as universal a greeting as dogs sniffing each others butts or elephants spinning in circles while urinating and defecating.  While not nearly as grotesque, the handshake ritual has existed since the dawn of time and plays a significant role in human communication, particularly in the business world.  For example, in a 2001 survey, the majority of businesses said in reference to prospective employees, they’d overlook visible piercings and tattoos more so than a “less than professional” handshake.  Additionally, people are twice as likely to remember you if you shook hands with them.  And how about this statistic?  On average, it takes only three seconds for a person to evaluate you; at which point they have formed their first opinion.  So much for not judging a book by its cover huh?

And what do they base their initial impression on, you ask?  One, your appearance and two, your greeting or introduction.  Shallow?  Maybe.  But in a world as fast-paced as the one we live in, particularly the business world, the decision to hire you or become a business partner is often made before you even open your mouth.

So how in the world can you land a job or that business deal in three seconds or at least increase your chances of doing so?  Easy, just follow these five guidelines:

  1. Dress to impress
  2. Maintain eye contact prior to and during the introduction
  3. Remember that actions speak louder than words
  4. Offer your hand for a good firm handshake
  5. Say your name and upon hearing the name of your subject, repeat it back to them

If you can do these five simple things, congratulations, you’ve just increased your chances of being hired or landing that business deal exponentially according to a recent article entitled “The Handshake:  A Business Approach”.

All kidding aside, non-verbal communication, otherwise known as body language, really does speak louder than words.  While eye contact is essential, as well as dressing appropriately for the environment, these areas need no further explanation; at least I hope not.  But for some unknown reason, the majority of people fail miserably when it comes to shaking another persons hand.  So without further ado, let’s look at the art of the handshake.

To fully and accurately describe the art of the handshake, we need to know the basics.  For example, the different types of handshakes, whether they are acceptable in the business world, and the appropriate duration of a handshake, which by the way is no more than three seconds.  Hmm, three seconds to form an opinion and three seconds for a handshake…coincidence?  I think not!

There are a large variety of “handshakes” out there, most of which are NOT to be practiced in the business environment unless special circumstances exist.  I’ll leave it to you to decide what those special circumstances are as I do not want to be held responsible when you get fired for giving your CEO a “Shug” (explained later).

The appropriate handshake is illustrated below.

As you can see, the webs of both hands meet, all four fingers are clutched firmly but comfortably around the other person’s hand, and the thumbs are positioned in such a way I swear there’s about to be thumb wrestling match.  And to further reiterate the business theme, I made sure the image included two people in suits.  This folks, is a proper handshake.

The Shake and Cover

Also acceptable but certainly not during the first meeting is the “Shake and Cover” or double-handed handshake as demonstrated below.

Popular amongst politicians and authoritative figures, the “Shake and Cover” is achieved by engaging in a proper handshake followed by the left hand being placed on top of the other subject’s right hand.  Generally, the “Shake and Cover” conveys one of two messages; “I’m better and more powerful than you” or “I sympathize with you”.  As a result, you’ll often see the “Shake and Cover” during political rallies and funerals and therefore should be practiced cautiously in the typical business environment.  Unless you’re trying to show up your boss, I’d avoid the “Shake and Cover”; unless of course their mother has just passed away.

The Urban

Often the first step of the “Shug” or any variation thereof, the “Urban” is popular amongst athletes and the younger generation; and therefore has no place in the conference room or your grandmother’s kitchen for that matter.  Unfortunately, due to the similar hand positions, a proper handshake can quickly turn into an “Urban” if due caution is not exercised.  A slight elevation of the four fingers is all it takes to go from an appropriate business greeting to a disastrous ordeal.

The Shug

Speaking of the “Shug”, half shake – half hug, take notice of the position of the right hands seen in the below image.

Here you see Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush “Shugging” a friend; right hands engaged in an “Urban” fashion with the left hand/arm wrapped around the subject’s body.  The “Shug”, also known as the “Man Hug”, is extremely popular amongst close friends, athletes, and bar mates.

On a side note, the “Shug” or “Man Hug” is one of my personal favorites; never practiced in the business environment though.  The “Shug” is incredibly flexible and versatile.  It conveys masculinity with a touch of affection; it’s reserved but expressive; and it’s close but not uncomfortably close.  Also, a “Shug” can be premeditated or it can evolve from a proper handshake to the “Urban” to the “Shug”; truly versatile.

The Southpaw

Otherwise known as the “Lefty”, the “Southpaw” should be avoided at all costs.  To shake someone’s hand with your left hand is considered uncouth and even an expression of disrespect in some countries.  Regardless of your dexterity, one learns from a very early age almost all single-handed gestures should be accomplished with the right hand (i.e. handshaking, saluting, flipping someone the bird, etc.).

To avoid facing a dire situation that might force you to shake someone’s hand with your southpaw, ensure you carry all handheld items in your left hand, allowing your right hand to remain open for a proper handshake should the occasion arise.  Military trainees (and I’m speaking from experience) are taught from Zero Week to carry EVERYTHING in their left hand in order to render a proper salute to any officer that might be roaming around.  The same should be practiced in the business world.

Hold Me Gently

I don’t want to stereotype, but I’m going to stereotype.  Women, this is for you.  First, you are not the Queen of England.  Secondly, the glass ceiling that kept woman from advancing to positions of authority and leadership that used to exist in the days of yore, exists no longer.  Seize this opportunity to assert yourself in the business world and debunk this business no-no.

Nothing says “I’m submissive and inferior” like a “Hold Me Gently”.  In a 2011 CNN MONEY article, 12 woman called themselves CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.  And you better believe there are thousands of other woman in the same position in multi-million dollar grossing businesses across the United States and the rest of the world.  Do you think they climbed the ladder of success by being submissive?  I didn’t think so.

The Southpaw Hold Me Gently

“Two wrongs never make a right”; I shall say no more.

The I’m Too Occupied Right Now to Shake Your Hand Properly

Almost exclusively seen in passing, hurried moments, or where the subject fantasizes you were dead but feels obligated to extend his or her hand (as beautifully illustrated below), the “I’m Too Occupied Right Now to Shake Your Hand Properly” handshake is the most difficult of all to execute.

Not only must your timing be impeccable, but so to does your hand and eye coordination.  Some people can’t even chew bubble gum and walk at the same time, let alone chew bubble gum, walk, extend their hand with graceful timing, squeeze, mutter an obligatory “Good Morning”, let go before they take their subject’s arm with them, and continue to their destination in one swift action.

Due to the complexity of the “I’m Too Occupied Right Now to Shake Your Hand Properly”, only attempt this if you’re a seasoned handshaker and high enough on the food chain to be important.

The Fist Bump

Not actually a “handshake” per say, the “Fist Bump” is a form of haptics and due to its overwhelming recent popularity, I thought it deserved a spot on this list.

While generally not acceptable in the workplace (unless you’re the President of the United States of America or the First Lady of course), the “First Bump” has found its way into the business world.

If you’re unfamiliar with the “Fist Bump”, you’ll know it’s coming or being requested when a person asks you to “pound it”, much like President Obama did in the above image.

Rumor has it that Hall of Fame baseball player Stan “The Man” Musial invented the “Fist Bump” when he refused to shake other players hands to avoid getting a cold.  Instead he would extend his fist and in return, his counterpart would do the same.  Others believe boxers invented the “Fist Bump” as a result of their hands being gloved and hardly in a position to offer a proper handshake.  Either way, keep the “Fist Bump” in the bars, on the field, or in your living room.

The Bone Crusher

Much worse when a bulky ring is worn on the right hand, the “Bone Crusher” can be extremely painful and therefore needs to be avoided if at all possible.

The “Bone Crusher” is often performed by larger men that are trying to make up for smaller…things and is also popular amongst politicians, lawyers, and other authoritative figures that think they have something to prove.

The Dead Fish

Perhaps one of the more annoying handshakes known to man, the “Dead Fish” is just what it sounds like; a weak, clammy, lifeless handshake; if you want to call it that.

When I receive a “Dead Fish” I want to tell the person, “I’d rather you have not shook my hand than thoroughly insult me with this pathetic excuse you call a handshake.”  Enough said.

And this brings me to the last handshake I’ll be addressing…

The Nothing is Right About This

Absolutely, positively, and without question DO NOT engage in the “Nothing is Right About This” handshake.  Not only will you be fired or not hired but it’s likely you’ll remain single and excluded as a potential candidate for procreation by the opposite sex for the rest of your natural life.  After all, if you’re shaking hands like this it’s obvious your gene pool is a bit…shallow.

Before I wrap this up, I want your opinion on what you think is the most unacceptable or annoying handshake found in the business world.  Below you see a poll with all the handshakes I’ve mentioned throughout this post.  If you have experienced another type of handshake I didn’t mention here, vote “Other”, fill in the blank, then leave me a comment and tell me what it is and why it drives you crazy; I’d love to hear it!


13 thoughts on “The Handshake: A Business Approach

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of Praise, Day 1 | Walk Humbly With God

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  3. At our organisation we teach on Interview Body Language. I am see a lot of good points here. I would like to use some of these examples in presentation if permitted. Thanks for the post!

  4. I hate when I go to give a nice firm handshake, and the guy gives me his dead fish handshake like he thinks he’s going to break my hand or something. I was taught by my father that even a woman can give a good firm handshake and show she means business.

    • You’re absolutely right Karen. Men shouldn’t expect women to shake hands any differently in today’s world. It’s likely you get those types of handshakes because these men are stuck in yesteryear and are still under the impression women are submissive and inferior in the workplace; which we all know is not the case anymore.

      It’s nice to know there are women these days that demand a good firm handshake. Good for you!

  5. Well written Joe! In fact, I have had a situation of a customer complaining to me about a colleague saying that his handshake was “weak”.. you are so right about the first impression!

    • I’d like to think that would be awfully embarrassing for your colleague. Something as simple as a handshake shouldn’t be so difficult to execute and unfortunately for your colleague, the customer probably has a different opinion of him or her now.

      Thanks for sharing Arindam!

  6. What a lot to think about in regards to a simple gesture! But you’re right. Although, I do hope you weren’t serious about the elephants…

    And I totally agree that “people are twice as likely to remember you if you shook hands with them.” It’s just like with children and learning. “Sensorimotor” is the term. It means engaging more than one of the senses while learning. Such as, saying the word apple while holding an apple and looking at a picture of an apple. The more senses you engage, such as with physical contact during a greeting, the more likely you’ll remember the encounter.

    For me — the cold, dead fish handshake is the worst. I just hate that. Makes my skin crawl.

    • Unfortunately the elephant greeting is true…to each their own I suppose.

      And what an interesting concept with sensorimotor. It completely makes sense but I had no idea. I guess we as parents do this subconsciously with our children to deepen their understanding and comprehension, although I didn’t know there was a term associated with it.

      The “Dead Fish” is incredibly annoying and insulting as I described in my post. Of all those handshakes listed above, this one peeves me the most.

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Nice post joe!! Often I use either “the shug”& “Hold me gently”. But the most annoying for me is “I’m Too Occupied Right Now to Shake Your Hand Properly” and “The bone crusher”.As i feel the in first one, the subject thinks he has a job with higher priority than shaking hand with you. So for me what is the point of shaking hand. And in the second one, the subject wants to show is superiority on you.For me than is unacceptable.

    • I’m definitely not a fan of the “Bone Crusher”. Not only is it painful sometimes but as you stated, it’s very unacceptable. Anybody who feels it necessary to put their superiority on display and attempt to “show you up” is not one I would want to shake hands with anyway.

      Thanks for sharing Arindam!

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