Shaking Hands

PSOW Staff - Wednesday, June 26, 2019
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National Handshake Day is June 27

Shaking hands—one of the most popular business stock picture images you’re likely to see in your entire lifetime. But the image—and act—of shaking hands is ubiquitous for a reason. First, shaking hands is not only a time-honored custom—it’s actually an ancient tradition. Although no one knows when the practice of shaking hands first started, a popular theory states that the gesture began as a way of conveying a peaceful intention between two parties. By extending hands to one another, it was a clear indication that, quite literally, there were no hidden axes to grind. That theory also says that when you shake your hands up and down, it was also a way to ensure that any hidden weapons would be dislodged from a stuffed sleeve. Some historians believe the act of shaking hands was popularized by 17th century Quakers who viewed the clasping of hands as a more equitable and respectable form of greeting opposed to bowing or the tipping of a hat.            

Regardless of its history or original purpose, the act of handshaking symbolizes good will, friendly greetings, peace and often, the beginning of a good working relationship. With National Handshake Day being celebrated June 27, brush up on the protocol and etiquette of a good handshake so you will know how to properly extend your hand in any social or business situation.

How to properly shake hands:

  • Always be ready to initiate or receive a handshake in any business or social situation.
  • Your right hand should always be free.
  • Your left hand should only hold one item.
  • Extend your hand with the thumb up and fingers out. Never extend your hand with the thumb up and fingers curled.
  • Think of the two hands meeting as “web-to-web.”
  • Once the hands meet, use two smooth pumps.
  • Shake hands with a shoulder to shoulder stance.
  • Avoid having clammy hands, fragrances on hands, and large rings on your right hand.
  • Be aware of people who may have a disability of the hand, and older people who may not be able to handle an overly aggressive, bone crusher shake. Instead, wait for them to offer their hand first.
  • If you have the cold or flu, it’s totally acceptable to say you are sick and substitute a fist bump in lieu of a hand shake to avoid the spreading of germs.

Always shake hands in the following situations:

  • When you are introduced to a person and when you say goodbye.
  • When someone comes into your home or office to visit you.
  • When you meet someone outside of your home or office.
  • When you enter a room, are greeted by friends or business associates.
  • When you are congratulating someone who has won an award or given a speech.
  • With those nearest to you, your host, and with whomever you meet as you move around the room.
  • When you are consoling someone.

Global Handshaking Styles:

  • No matter where business takes you, here or abroad, make sure every meeting or social event, begins and ends with a handshake.
  • Western and Eastern Europeans reshake hands whenever they are apart for a period of time. It is polite to shake hands when you leave for lunch and when you return.
  • In Europe, shake hands first with the oldest person or the one of senior rank and on down the line. The ranking person extends his or her hand first. Women shake hands with each other and with men. It is up to the woman to initiate the handshake with a man. When a woman fails to extend her hand to a European man, she loses credibility.
  • The French shake hands in one brisk stroke. Europeans and Latin Americans execute a light handshake that lingers twice as long as an American handshake. Pulling the hand away too soon is interpreted as rejection.
  • In the Middle East, a handshake is rather limp and lingering. Do not pull your hand away. Take your time. Shake hands with everyone on arrival and departure.
  • In Eastern Asia, you will encounter variations in handshakes from country to country. Some countries incorporate bows, others shake both hands at once, others have a longer pumping style.
  • In Japan, a light handshake and a nod of the head are appropriate. Shake a woman’s hand in the USA and abroad just as firmly as you would a man’s hand.
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