Since I was a young girl, I have been working to perfect the art of the handshake. I have a very distinct memory of being about 10 years old (same age as my son is now). My grandfather, of blessed memory, was coming to our house for a visit one evening. My dad called my brothers into the room and said, “Boys, when Grandpa gets here, be sure to look him in the eye and give him a firm handshake. He really likes for a man to be able to shake hands properly.” My first reaction was, “What am I? Chopped liver?” So, being a modern girl, what do you suppose I did? Yep. When Grandpa Harold arrived, I walked right up to him, looked him in the eye and nearly crushed his hand!
With time, I realized the “crush” was unnecessary, but, to this day, I still believe that there is art to a good, solid handshake.
This topic came up last week over coffee with a friend who was visiting Kansas City. Ellen Sherberg, the Publisher of the St. Louis Business Journal, was telling me about a workshop that she facilitated for a group of university students. The theme was networking and her closing exercise was to have everyone stand up, shake hands with the person next to them and then rate, on a scale from 1-10, their partner’s handshake. She started asking the pairs, “So, what score would you give your partner’s handshake?” The students were calling out scores that averaged 8.5 or 9… there were several 10s, too. Ellen said to the students, “Hmmm… I was watching you all shake hands and, I have to be honest, I didn’t see any 9s or 10s.”
She went on to tell the students, “the place where nearly every one of you went wrong is that you thought you were to simply shake hands. The truth is, in order to greet someone effectively, or to say farewell, you must shake hands with your eyes.”
Think about that. It is just like my dad told my brothers that day so many years ago. You must shake hands with your eyes.
Indeed, there is an art to a good handshake. If you can avoid the cold, dead fish style handshake and provide a solid grip, it can allow for a professional, physical “touch.” That said, the way to truly let someone know you are genuinely happy to see them or you really mean business or you enjoyed the discussion, et al, is to look them in the eyes and convey your sincerity.
Indeed, the strength of a good handshake is a combo of a well-balanced grip while looking someone in the eyes. Go on, give it a try!