handshake etiquette

Listen Up Ladies: Etiquette Of The Handshake

“When did women start shaking hands? It feels awkward."

Recently, a very bright, talented, professional woman asked me that question. Initially, I was startled. Yet, as I thought about the question, I realized that many women in my seminars are reluctant to shake hands, and others do so incorrectly.

In today's workplace, shaking hands is not for men only. The handshake is the business greeting. Both men and women need to shake hands, and to do so correctly.

One woman said she got her job because she shook hands at the beginning of the interview and at the end. The manager told the woman that he chose her because she handled herself so professionally.

Why do women sometimes feel uncomfortable about shaking hands? The reasons vary:

  1. Some women were never taught to shake hands. It is not that these women were told not to do so, it is that they were not taught to do so. One woman in an etiquette class was shocked when she realized that she was not teaching her four-year-old daughter to shake hands, but she had already started teaching her two-year-old son to shake hands.
  2. Women bring the personal greeting of kissing friends on the cheek into the workplace. This can be awkward, since you will not want to kiss or hug everyone you meet at work, nor will everyone be comfortable with this greeting.
  3. Many women were taught not to stand when shaking hands. Before each of my seminars, I walk around the room to introduce myself to my participants and extend my hand in a greeting. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of men, but only 30 to 35 percent of women, stand to shake my hand. You establish your presence when you stand. Both men and women need to stand when shaking hands.

You will be judged by your handshake. Be honest: What do you think if someone gives you a limp handshake? Yes, you tend to think of that person as weak and unimpressive.

To shake hands properly, you should extend your hand with the thumb up. Touch thumb joint to thumb joint. Put your thumb down, and wrap your fingers around the palm of the other person. Your grip should be firm, but don't break any bones – it's not a competition. Two to three pumps is enough. Face the person and make eye contact.

And one more thing:

It used to be that a man needed to wait for the woman to extend her hand. Not anymore. The new guideline is to give the higher-ranking person a split second to extend a hand, and if he or she does not, you extend yours. The key is that the handshake needs to take place.

Point To Ponder

Keep the right hand free. Before you walk into a meeting, move anything you are carrying to your left hand. You don't want to be fumbling with items before you extend your hand. When mingling, hold your drink in the left hand so your right hand is always free and dry to shake.

Additional information can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill).

Barbara Pachter  |  www.pachter.com
Barbara is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author. She has delivered more than 2100 seminars throughout the world including the first-ever seminar for businesswomen in Kuwait. Her 10th book, "The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success," (McGraw-Hill)was recently published. She coaches women internationally on Executive Presence via Skype.