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Volume 9, Issue 38;   September 23, 2009: The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: II

The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Where the handshake is a customary business greeting, it's possible to offend accidentally. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for handshakes in the USA.
Historic handshake in Porvoo Finland in 2007

Historic handshake in Porvoo, Finland, on August 27, 2007, at the opening of the Children's Parliament of the Peaceful Jerusalem. Left to right are Palestine delegate to Finland Nabil Alwazir, President of Children's United Parliament of the World Jyrki Arolinna, and Ambassador of Israel Shemi Tzur. This is a rare fourhanded handshake among three people who are obviously please to be participating in the handshake. Photo (cc) Jyrki Arolinna.

Here's Part II of a little catalog of guidelines for handshake greetings in the USA. Read Part I.

Lock hands
Lock hands with your partner, with the web connecting your thumb and index finger meeting theirs. Close your fingers around the bottom edge of your partner's palm. Grasping just their fingers, or offering just your own fingers, can feel like a put-down. Preventing web-web contact by keeping your thumb in your palm is called a "dead fish handshake." It's decidedly offensive.
Pump once or twice
Pump up and down once or twice, for at most two or three seconds. Pumping more than twice risks appearing foolish, over-eager, or obsequious.
Know when not to hold on
Holding your partner's hand after the pumps are finished, usually while talking, can be affectionate and warm, if you know the person well. It can also be a dominance tactic. Use with extreme care.
Use firm pressure
Hold your partner's hand with firm pressure, but not painfully so. Strong people must take care. Too little pressure communicates weakness or timidity.
Withhold comment
If your partner uses an extremely strong or weak grip, or has cold or sweaty hands, or doesn't want to shake hands, or breaks any of the "rules," let it pass. There might be a good reason: arthritis, poison ivy, or goodness knows what.
Don't wipe your hand
Wiping your hand Accompanying
touch is risky
before or after shaking hands can offend. Even if you have good reason, such as sweaty palms or wet hands, some might feel offense.
Accompanying touch is risky
The two-handed handshake, or touching your partner's right arm with your left hand during the handshake, can be seen as affectionate if you know each other well. Otherwise, it can be a dominance gesture, which might offend.
Smile, but not too much
A nice smile is usually welcome, but a broad, long-lived grin can seem ingratiating or foolish unless you know each other well.
Take deformities and disabilities in stride
If your partner can't use his or her right hand, or if it is missing or deformed, the left hand will do just as well. If you know in advance that the right hand is unavailable, and the left is, use your left. If your right hand is already extended, use it and make the best of it. If neither of your partner's hands is available, a warm touch might be welcome. Use your judgment: a warm smile is nearly always safe.
If your right hand is unavailable
If you can't use your right hand, offer your left. Offering early might save your partner some embarrassment, but that's up to you. If neither of your hands is available, a warm smile and a nod will do nicely.

Declining to shake hands has costs — it can offend. You can decline, but do offer an explanation. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Tangled Thread Troubles  Next Issue

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