Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
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

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A wrecked boatShould I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets, rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
A cup of coffeeHelp for Asking for Help
When we ask for help, from peers or from those with organizational power, we have some choices. How we go about it can determine whether we get the help we need, in time for the help to help.
Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team at the South Pole in 1911Coping and Hard Lessons
Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
A bottlenose dolphinWacky Words of Wisdom: V
Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal. They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
ClarityBrain Clutter
The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting…

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting held in a long conference room.Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
A dictionaryAnd on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.