The Types of Handshakes…. You Better Grab The Right One!

by Sam Diener on August 20, 2009

I did not learn how to shake hands properly until I was 23, and I was, literally, taught.   That’s four years of high school, four years of college, and nearly a year in the work world.   In fact, I screwed up probably thousands of first impressions before finally someone was generous enough to say, “Hey Sam, you are an idiot.”  Well, not an idiot, but you get the point.

There are different types of handshakes. And They all mean something different. In case you didn’t know this, or forgot, let me remind you.  YOUR BAD HANDSHAKE WILL COST YOU –  the interview, the contact, your job, a sale, or insert your worst case scenario here.   Sorry for the quick judgment, but to anyone important: you ARE your handshake.  Don’t be a dead fish.  Don’t be a bone crusher either.

Okay so, information.   I am not teaching you how to actually shake a hand.   E-How is a great reference for the beginner.   Going from most commonly known to the least known, here is the REAL nitty gritty:

1.   Handshakes last at the longest for “1 miss-iss-ippi”   That’s 1 second.

2.   Always, always, ALWAYS with your right hand.   If you give a left-handed handshake, that to some people is as bad as throwing your shoe at a president.  Want to know why?  Because in some cultures, you wipe your ass with your left hand.    Yup, its true:  Look here..    So – drink (water) is in your left hand at your side (not across your body), your dry right hand is always free.

-As a follow up to this, your nametag always goes on your right side so it is in perfect view of the other person when they shake your hand.   (Thanks Marcy!)

3.    Do not cover the other person’s hand or use two hands in your shake.  That can be sometimes seen as intrusive, or too personal.

4.  Avoid being in the dominant position when you shake hands.  The dominant person in the handshake comes over the top and takes the upper position (think palm down) in the shake.  This is an AWFUL message to send to someone when networking.  It could be sending the message “I am going to come in and take your job…”  You very well might, but they get to have the upper hand right now.

5.  The business handshake (palm perpendicular to the floor) is given only after the first introduction.  Your initial handshake as a job-seeker or in presenting yourself to any authority should be with an open palm.  Present your open palm face up at a 45 degree angle and accept their hand.   This gives the perception that you are open and interested in what the person has to say.  Remember from my last article on creative networking, you want to listen 90% of the time.  This handshake says that is what you are there to do.

Conclusions: This is my second article.   I was quite exhilarated by your comments on my networking article and was easily motivated to continue.   I hope you all continue to find my writing informative. I welcome any of your comments, and I will respond to all inquiries and job offers at sam at samdiener dot com. Keep checking back for new writing. Good luck!

A special thanks to Ms. Kellie Bowers for her editing expertise.

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  • Russ Kovar

    Sam – great article and very insightful for someone of your age.

    Keep up the good work – you will go far.

    Russ Kovar

  • Jeremy Schafer

    Couldn’t agree more. I definitely gain a better sense of one’s demeanor based on their handshake. I can’t tell you how many times I walk away unimpressed with other’s wimpy handshakes. Because there are so many unimpressive ones, the firm real handshakes always tend to stand out. Such firm ones exude confidence and professionalism.

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  • Suzan Oberle

    Handshakes are important for both men and women, but often women seem less comfortable shaking hands than men, and in my experience, I am more likely to get a “dead fish” from a woman.

    For an interesting perspective on shaking hands, rent the John Malkevich movie, “The Great Buck Howard”. It’s a charming film about (among other things) a guy with an absolutely dreadful handshake!

  • http://www.CrystalClearSolutions.com/ Melissa D Nourigat

    Hello Sam,

    Would this apply to women as well and do should women shake women’s hands differently than men?

  • Sam Diener

    Melissa,

    There used to be a much lighter standard set for women. However, this standard has become null and void. In fact, now, you may be judged even MORE as a woman based on your handshake. The principles I outlined are more or less universal to all in today’s business world. Hope this answers your question.

  • Marcy Ruesch

    Sam,

    Regarding the placement of your nametag on the left side – Many people suggest placing it on the right side so the person you’re meeting with can easily see your name while shaking hands. It’s easily within their line of vision.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/susanneebling Susanne Ebling

    Sam, Thanks for posting this interesting article. As someone who grew up in a culture of shaking hands even with family members, I often wonder what to do if your interviewer (i.e., the person you want to impress) gives you the proverbial dead fish. Are you a dead fish back because you don’t want to crush their hand? Or do you attempt to give a real hand shake to a dead fish? Or do you drop the hand as quickly as possible since it’s so uncomfortable shaking a dead fish?

  • Sameer Hukku

    Your article was direct and very informative. First impressions DO make a huge difference in how you come across to someone else. Whatever it is…your clothing style, your attitude/persona, or even your handshake all reveal “hidden” clues about yourself without even opening your mouth!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jrhorrell Jim Horrell

    Sam,

    Some people have asked, What’s in a name?

    I ask, What’s in a handshake?

    After reading you article, I now know just how important the handshake is. And when I go to future networking events and meet new people, I will use the proper technique. Thank you for sharing your advice.

  • Sam Diener

    Susanne – I am quite quick to correct someone who gives me an improper handshake. Honestly, I feel it is a respect thing, and I would always want someone to correct me if I did it wrong. When I shook someone’s hand with my left hand once, it took me 3 weeks to find out why she (a volunteer with me) was treating me oddly. It took me asking her husband to find out what the issue was. Imagine my confusion when I heard what the reason for her disdain was.

    Certainly use discretion, but, sometimes you have to accept it and move on – if you aren’t willing to risk the consequences of correcting or dropping the handshake…

  • steph

    Sam, Thanks for the great article!

    As a woman who has always done the handshake as described above, I find it odd that I get at least as many men offering me the dead-fish handshake as I get from women.

    Men, just because you’re shaking hands with “the fairer sex” doesn’t mean you should offer up the wimpiest handshake you can muster. Similarly, as noted above, the two-handed handshake is more than “too personal” when doing it to a woman.

    Women, learn how to shake hands!

  • http://susanireland.com Susan Ireland

    I love how-to posts about stuff everyone thinks everyone else knows. It’s like learning how to write your first check… oops, I’m showing my age… I meant, using your first debit card.

    Great post. I’ll tweet about it!

  • Brian Fanslau

    Loved your article. I’ve noticed that the handshake is very important and people really do remember your handshake almost as well as your face and your name.

  • JCincy

    FYI: The handshake between Boy Scouts in uniform is with the left hand… the hand closest to the heart.

  • Sam Diener

    Wow – I did not know that JCincy. Thank you for that

  • Raja

    Very helpful; I hadn’t realized there was a different hand position for job seekers but it makes sense. What does one do if the other side offers a limp fish or a bone crusher and they happen to be in the seat of authority?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/dthayerpaul Debi

    Good article. I have not heard of job seekers using a submissive position during the handshake at the interview but it makes perfect sense.

    I’m always surprised when men and women who hold high level or professional positions produce either a fingertip or limp fish handshake. In health care especially when a doctor or provider meets a patient for the first time the handshake should project one of confidence and trust.

  • Josh Blatman

    Sam, I’m older than you and I never knew about the open palm. It seems totally the right thing to do intuitively, especially based on what you and I have studied about socializing.

    There was also the point that handshakes should last no longer than “1 miss-iss-ippi,” but that begs a question…what do you suggest for when the other person holds the handshake way too long? This has only happened to me during a group conversation and it seems like the other person just forgot what was happening. Is there anything you think this would tell me?

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    This is good stuff Sam, I am an energetic networker whose handshake (I just discovered) was not very good! It's crazy how things like this aren't taught in high school or college in my opinion, I agree with you.

    I wish there was a degree in sales here at Clarkson and I wish that I could take classes on networking. That would be a dynamic degree that I would be more than passionate to pursue!

  • http://socialstudiesmi.blogspot.com/ Phil Lynch

    Very interesting content. I am a psych teacher and this is great stuff. Have you read The Ape in the Corner Office? It gets into our primate instincts, dominance, submission, etc., which you're definitely clued into. Where do you come by your knowledge? Experience? Research? B-school?

    I mean this helpfully, seriously: you might consider decluttering your site; there are many things distracting my eye, and the text runs right up to the left edge. The book, “PresentationZen,” (site at http://www.presentationzen.com) changed my graphic life: tons of white space, big pics to ponder.

    But let's end positively: I find your site really interesting and will look around a bunch more. Be well!

  • http://socialstudiesmi.blogspot.com/ Phil Lynch

    Very interesting content. I am a psych teacher and this is great stuff. Have you read The Ape in the Corner Office? It gets into our primate instincts, dominance, submission, etc., which you're definitely clued into. Where do you come by your knowledge? Experience? Research? B-school?

    I mean this helpfully, seriously: you might consider decluttering your site; there are many things distracting my eye, and the text runs right up to the left edge. The book, “PresentationZen,” (site at http://www.presentationzen.com) changed my graphic life: tons of white space, big pics to ponder.

    But let's end positively: I find your site really interesting and will look around a bunch more. Be well!

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  • valleygirl

    My husband gave my sons female baseball coach a bad hand shake he put one hand on top of the hand shake it looked to personal and very inappropriate i was very embarrassed she gave me a look as to say are you ok with him shaking my hand like that but the damage had been done saying anything at that time would have made it worse am I reading too much into this

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