Never Underestimate the Value of a Strong Handshake!


A young man came to my door this morning to see if we were interested in sealcoating our driveway.  He proceeded to tell me how the process worked, how he could repair part of our driveway and that the whole thing would be $1,100 – – an amazing deal!  When I opened the door to talk to him I introduced myself and shook his hand.  Then again, when he provided a written estimate, I shook his hand. As he took a couple steps toward his truck I said, “Wait!  I need to tell you something.  You are probably losing business because of the way you shake hands.” He said, “But you’re a woman.” To which I replied,

I’m a business owner and I coach professionals on how to shake hands and make strong eye contact when they meet someone new.  Don’t shake a woman’s hand any differently than you would a man’s.”

Of course I delivered this message nicely and with a smile on my face.  I then made him “try it again” three times.  He improved!  I then realized I was still in my PJ bottoms and probably looked moderately crazy.  I told him to remember to use a firm handshake in the future and that he could look back on the advice he got from the crazy lady in her PJ’s as being helpful to his business! Having a strong handshake with direct eye contact are two of the very best ways to make a positive first impression.

Throughout my career, I have been amazed at how many professionals – men and women – don’t know how to properly shake someone’s hand. Consider the following tips:

  • Remember Web-to-Web – When you shake someone’s hand, make sure the area between your thumb and first finger directly connects at the same location with the person you are greeting.
  • Stay Perpendicular – If you have ever been greeted by someone who automatically shakes your hand and proceeds to turn their wrist so their hand is on top, know they are putting a power play on you.
  • Be Firm – Make sure your handshake is one that others would describe as firm.  Firm equates to confident, professional, and warm.
  • The Eyes Have It – As you are going in for the firm handshake, do not break eye contact.  Looking anywhere but into the eyes of the person you are meeting can come across as sneaky, dishonest, shy, or just plain socially awkward.
  • Know when to Fold ‘Em – Two or three “pumps” should suffice.  Don’t continue to hold the other person’s hand for too long after the firm handshake.  It’s awkward.
  • Keep your Other Hand to Itself – If you are meeting someone for the first time, don’t instinctively place your other hand over the handshake in progress.  This can come across as domineering and can also be viewed as a power play.
  • Stand Up for Yourself – If you are seated and someone comes to your table to meet you, stand up!  Don’t just lean around and offer your hand.  Standing communicates the mutual respect you have for one another.  Staying seated can come across as being lazy.
  • Resist the Shoulder Touch – Similar to “keep your other hand to itself” above, don’t use your non-shaking hand to grasp the arm or shoulder of the other person; particularly if it’s a business setting and especially if you are a man doing this to a woman.  It can come across as a bit too familiar at best, and creepy, at worst.
  • The Final Ingredient: Smile! – Shaking hands is a warm greeting between two people.  Don’t forget to smile and show the other person you are genuinely happy to see or meet them.

Some professionals underestimate the value of a strong handshake and unwavering eye contact.  If you are trying to present your best face to others, the tips above will help you make that invaluable strong and positive first impression.  It will set the tone for a positive and productive conversation.

When not busy coaching her clients, Terrie enjoys spending time with her husband, Jim, on their 40 acres of land in Rush City, MN, snow shoeing and communing with nature by the fire pit.  As empty-nesters, the Wheelers have a menagerie of animals they call family including three Chihuahuas, one German shepherd, and two cats. Terrie also enjoys downhill skiing, and in college was quite accomplished at ballet skiing (a form of freestyle skiing like ice skating on skis).  Terrie also loves visiting Caribbean beaches in the winter and bonding with fish through her snorkel and goggles.

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