The art of the handshake

Nonto Masuku

OF LATE there has been a number of conferences and networking events in the city.

One of the things we all do at these meetings is shake hands. Many of us shake hands without really taking into consideration what we are communicating by the kind of handshake we have to offer.

Insignificant as it may seem, a handshake can communicate many messages. It can communicate warmth, a genuine concern for the other person, and an image of either strength or gentleness. It can also communicate indifference and weakness. People even judge others based on their handshakes.

A firm handshake implies power, strength and knowhow. A weak handshake implies weakness, uncertainty and disinterest. Developing a professional handshake is perhaps one of the most valuable business skills one can ever cultivate. In this article, I would like to share some tips on the art of a good handshake.

The message you communicate with your handshake is determined by five factors:

Degree of firmness
Your grip should be firm rather than weak. However, it should not cause pain to the other person. A weak handshake may be considered as a sign of weakness and lack of confidence.

Dryness of hand
We all prefer to shake a hand that is dry. Make sure your hand is dry at all times. If you are at the buffet table and have been eating or holding a cold glass for instance, it is expected you would wipe your hand on your serviette before extending it to be shaken.

Depth of grip
A handshake is palm to palm. Generally you will place your hand so that the web between your thumb and forefinger meets the web of the other person’s hand briefly.

Your hand remains perpendicular. If your palm is facing up, this may be construed as a sign of submissiveness. Similarly, if your palm is on top, it can be seen as a sign of aggressiveness.

Duration of grip
The perfect handshake is about three seconds.

Eye contact
While this will vary from culture to culture, professionally it is expected to maintain eye contact with the person one is shaking hands with. Having something to say as one shakes hands, is important. It does not require anything witty.

Just saying, “Pleased to meet you,” is good enough. These few words set the stage for some small talk that could be the beginning of a new business relationship.

Please note that the advent of some viral diseases that are transmitted through contact with sweat and/or other bodily fluids, may require the traditional handshake to be revisited. In the interim, should one have to shake hands, let us make sure we do it well so as to project a professional image.

Nonto Masuku is a partner of an image and reputation management firm