In-person business greetings vary around the world. There are nods, bows, kisses, hugs, handshakes, and many more. In the United States, the customary greeting is a handshake.
There's no one right way to shake hands. We each shake hands in our own unique ways. Wherever we learned it, our teachers are all different. Men and women are different too.
Even though we all do it differently, any culture that has a handshake custom has an "ideal" handshake, and it attaches meanings to slight deviations from the ideal. Here's Part I of some guidelines for handshakes, as the custom is practiced in business in the USA.
- It's a right hand thing
- Unless you have a disability, or your right hand is obviously occupied in some way, the right hand is the rule. Extending your left hand can be seen as insulting.
- If you expect to be shaking hands, keep your right hand free and remove your gloves. Having to shift items to your left hand while your partner waits can seem disrespectful to some, and might even feel embarrassing to you.
- If you're seated when a handshake is imminent, rise. Some feel that this applies only to men, but that's changing, especially in the business setting. Still, in some microcultures, ladies need not stand.
- Make eye contact
- Shaking hands requires eye contact and attention. Not a glare or stare, but caring attention. Looking away can mean, "I don't really care about you."
- Even though we all do it differently,
any culture that has a handshake
custom has an "ideal" handshake
- Stand far enough away
- If you're too close, your extended hand will invade your partner's personal space, which in the U.S. is about three-quarters of an arm's length.
- Know who should offer first
- Some women feel that courtesy demands that a man wait for a woman to extend her hand, though in business, it's now rare for women to be treated differently. The powerful — both men and women — often expect the less powerful to offer first.
- Say your name
- Introduce yourself, even if someone else has already done so. All you need do is say your name, beginning just before you extend your hand.
- Say your partner's name
- Toward the end of the handshake, say your partner's name. Speaking it will help you remember it, and demonstrates that you're paying attention and that you care. "Nice to meet you" is optional and usually welcome.
- Point your thumb upward
- Some people shake hands with palm pointing slightly downward. For many people, this is insulting, because it places them in a subordinate position.
If you've grown up in the United States, and you shake hands with someone who was reared elsewhere, you might notice deviations from these customs. Interpreting those deviations as if they were intended to give offense would probably be a mistake. We'll continue next time with more guidelines and deviations. Next in this series Top Next Issue
- Illysa Izenberg, Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University
- Many people are unaware that religiously-observant Jewish and Muslim people do not shake the hand of someone of the opposite gender (the religion of other person is not relevant — only the gender).
- I've spoken with some men in sales positions who were highly insulted when they reached out to shake a woman's hand and it was not reciprocated. I've counseled them to simply say, "oops, my mistake," smile, and move on. In their own minds, they have to let it go. They can say to themselves, "very few things that other people say and do are about me" so as to learn not to take these things personally.
- I've counseled the religious people to simply say to someone of the opposite gender who reaches their hand out, "I'm glad to meet you and I'm sorry I can't shake your hand." A smile and clear statement goes a long way to eliminating discomfort.
- To eliminate discomfort, we all should take note of the other person's likelihood to avoid shaking hands. A woman in a head-covering or a man in a kippah are clear signs. For religiously-observant Jewish women and Muslim men, the signs may be more subtle as many of them do not wear head-coverings that are obvious. You may be able to tell by the way they are dressed or other cues.
- There are no foolproof measures to ensure no one is insulted. I once asked a man whom I was meeting for the first time and who self-identified as Muslim, "shall we shake hands?", and he was annoyed I'd asked. That's okay — the next person might appreciate being asked.
- Given the lack of absolutes, I think it's best to let any faux-pas go. Be clear about your own boundaries and apologize briefly if you've overstepped another person's.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGycujuYPGVBGJcPuner@ChacmCPsGfMZEmtUAkOmoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Virtual Communications: III
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Coping with Layoff Survival
- Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most
difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security.
How can you cope with survival?
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?
- Unnecessary Boring Work: I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about
work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
- Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think?
Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.
- And on February 7: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: II
- Brainstorming sessions produce output of notoriously variable quality. Understanding what compromises quality can help elevate it. Here's Part II of a set of nine phenomena that can limit the quality of contributions to brainstorming sessions. Available here and by RSS on February 7.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrensvXfBpscasJluYetner@ChacQOZTtyBUEKRdakJQoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program: