Recently, my husband returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. which included many meetings on Capitol Hill. (He is a member of Parliament here in Latvia). As is our usual practice, he shows me photos from meeting various Congressmen, Senators, and State Department officials. I remarked on the casual handshake and hand-on shoulder grasp in one photo. Then in another, the aid to one of the Presidential candidates cupped my husband's hands. From the blur in the photo, it looks like quite a vigorous handshakes. Granted, busy people shake a lot of hands on a daily basis. Have they forgotten the etiquette of handshaking and greetings?
Some tips for making that first handshake when meeting a new or familiar individual.
Consider: who are these people with whom you are going to shake hands?
- Are they from another country (as was in this case)?
- Are they the same age as you (they were older)?
- Was there a mix of genders?
- Stand (always!) and look the other person in the eyes. (Note that not all cultures feel comfortable with looking directly into eyes during handshakes, particularly far Eastern cultures.)
- A person in a higher position should be the first one to extend their hand.
- Offer an appropriate verbal greeting during the handshake. If you address the person by name, get it right! Use the formal Mr, Mrs, Ms, especially if they are total strangers and the situation calls for titles.
- Have a firm, but not too firm, handshake.
- Hold their hand for a few seconds as the greeting takes place; or, if they want to hold on a bit longer—then do so as well.
- If you are a woman, extend your hand first if you are greeting a man. It will eliminate confusion because it is often presumed that a man cannot extend his hand until the lady extends hers. In some European cultures, this will clarify whether you expect a bise (kiss on the cheek).
If you are the host, follow up by offering your guest a seat or some refreshment. If you are together with other people, introduce them (name, position, some brief detail). Shake hands when you are leaving, too, while thanking the person for the meeting.
What shouldn't you do?
- Consider that not everyone appreciates an informal
Hi, guysgreeting, especially...
- if they are older,
- if they are women,
- if they are from another culture, or
- if they have a high position or rank.
- Don’t look bored and bothered or too busy.
- Not looking at this person, or looking at someone else while saying hello, is downright rude. (Again, note that eye contact is not acceptable in all cultures!)
- Don’t put your left hand in your pocket.
- Don’t chew gum, start answering your mobile phone, or otherwise be distracted.
- Don’t hurry with a handshake, especially if the other person is taking more time.
- Don’t stretch out your arm straight—it looks like you are too cautious about the other person.
- Don’t give finger tips and a limp handshake.
- Don’t pump up and down. You're making a greeting, not drawing water from a well!
- Don’t use slang in the greeting, especially when in a mix of cultures.
- Try to avoid sweaty hands.
- If you have cold hands, don’t make extensive excuses for the fact!
Hand-shakes, like any form of greeting, vary region to region, so above all, be sensitive to your partner!