Rude, Wimpy, Sexist

Rude, Wimpy, Sexist - bluefeet blog post by Lilli Cloud

Is that what people think of you after shaking your hand?

The most talked-about topic in my recent round of interview workshops was – the handshake. Who knew this would be such a controversial subject? Not me.

The issue? The proper way for a man to shake a woman’s hand. Just to set the stage, while these groups were primarily men, they worked for a company with a female CEO.

I’m guessing this is something a lot of men think about, but don’t talk about. The upshot is that they were concerned about hurting a woman, especially a petite or older woman.

I agree that it’s important not to crush someone’s hand. I’ve been accused of that myself, despite the fact that I wear petite-size clothes. With me, people are surprised to get such a firm handshake. I didn’t cultivate this. It’s just natural for me.

But one thing is certain – nothing kills a first impression faster than a wimpy handshake. To the men who were holding back, I told them they could be doing themselves a great disservice. At best, I would get the impression that they lacked confidence. At worst, I might realize they were holding back because I’m a woman, and conclude they were sexist.

No less than Psychology Today has covered this issue. A recent blog post gives this excellent advice:

“…it is always good to remember to mirror the handshake of the person who has the highest status – if they give a strong handshake then that is what you do, conversely if it is gentle and short then that is also what you do.”

If you’re in a multicultural environment, this is even more important. When in Rome, as they say. Or South Korea, as Bill Gates found out when he kept one hand in his pocket while shaking hands with President Geun Hye Park (who happens to be a woman). His faux pas was displayed in all the newspapers, many with the handshake photo front page and above the fold.

Perhaps, coming from the more casual tech industry, Bill was more used to the fist bump, which, apparently, is becoming more common in business. Michelle and Barack’s famous convention bump got people talking, including USA Today, but I don’t recommend you try that in any kind of interview or new business situation.

My handshake rules are short and sweet:

  1. As you enter the room, walk directly over to the other person (no leaning over a table if you can’t possibly avoid it).
  2. If you’re sitting when someone approaches you, stand up.
  3. Smile
  4. Look them in the eye
  5. Shake warmly, but firmly

What we finally settled on in my workshops is that there can be a difference between the handshake you give in a business situation and one that you give in a social situation. But keep in mind that your social outings could lead to business. Don’t underestimate the power of social networking — the old-fashioned kind where you meet people and shake hands.

And if you haven’t had enough shaking yet, you can find a few bloopers on Fast Company.