The handshake: Is it a power move?

5 key things for a memorable-for-all-the-right-reasons handshake

Credit: iStock

5 key things for a memorable-for-all-the-right-reasons handshake

You would think that the simple handshake has turned into a major power play if you’ve been watching Donald Trump shaking hands. Trump has made #handshake a top-trending topic. His Gotcha Handshake, where he grabs the other person’s right elbow and yanks it toward him, is a power grab. And Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron’s mano a mano handshake where neither man is willing to let go first looks downright silly. Knock it off, world leaders!

A handshake should not be a power move but a meaningful nonverbal way to connect with someone. A handshake should telegraph respect, equality and trust. There was even a time when a handshake?not a lawyer?sealed a deal. And we still automatically put out our hand when we make a bet with someone: “Ten bucks says I am right.” A handshake matters.

1. A handshake sets the tone

University of Iowa business professor Greg Stewart’s research paper “Exploring the Handshake in Employment Interviews” states, “We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview.” Professor Stewart notes, “the handshake is one of the first nonverbal clues we get about the person’s overall personality, and that impression is what we remember.” Whether it’s a job interview, a sales meeting or a first-time introduction, your handshake says a lot about you.

2. How a handshake shows your confidence

Neither a limp handshake nor a bone-crushing handshake conveys confidence. Instead, a handshake should be firm and include a brief pumping motion (two pumps are good). It should be done straight up (see photo above), not a side-to-side motion. A very common handshake mistake is where one person reaches out their hand with their palm down and their hand flops into the other person’s hand like a dead fish. This is different from the dominant version where one person purposely covers the other person’s hand and pushes down to shake. This “I’m on Top Handshake” is in Trump’s repertoire and not to be emulated.

3. What about a sweaty handshake?

We have to deal with this because some people have sweaty hands. If a person has this condition, it makes them even more anxious, hence making their palms even sweatier. This is a tough challenge, and we have only come up with two answers. From experience, we know that the more often you put yourself in networking situations, the less nervous you become. If your sweaty palms are because of anxiety, practice is the cure. There are other people where no amount of networking is going to make it easier. They probably have hyperhidrosis, the term for excess sweating. That problem has a cure, and it’s Botox injections.      

4. Two other essential elements of a handshake

This may seem pretty obvious, but a smile and making (and keeping) eye contact with the other person are the other two ingredients needed. However, we find many people shake hands, make eye contact very briefly and then look away. Maintain eye contact, even if it feels a bit uncomfortable (which it does for some people). A smile is important because neuroscience has shown that there is a brain-to-brain connection when people meet. A smile comes easier if you make a decision when you meet someone that you are going to like that person. If you believe it, the other person will feel it. This is not hocus-pocus.

5. Avoid clutch and grin photos

With the ability to pull out a phone and post a photo, there’s one photo op to avoid, and it’s the dreaded “Clutch and Grin.” There is nothing more stilted than a photo of two people face forward, smiling at the camera and shaking hands at an odd angle. OK, there is one thing that’s even more awkward, and that’s three people shaking hands as the famous 2016 video of “The Three Amigos,” Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto, trying to shake hands all at once.  

A whole lot of wrong

But we cannot leave this article on handshakes without showing the pièce de résistance of handshaking. There’s a whole lot of wrong in this short video clip of Trump and Macron on Bastille Day.

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, are business networking speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall). They offer a free weekly networking tip, always under 200 words.