I see friends shaking hands, saying, "How do you do?" They're really saying, "I love you."
– Louis Armstrong, "What a Wonderful World"
The purpose of a handshake is to convey trust, and to connect and share our common humanity with one another.
Reports of Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband's recent handshake at an affair at Buckingham Palace made the headlines. In some settings, various styles of handshakes may be appropriate but in traditional business and formal settings, a proper business handshake is a formality not to be neglected. The handshake has existed since before recorded history and has been observed as a form of greeting in primates other than humans such as chimpanzees.
From the bone-crusher to the dead-fish, the business handshake may tell volumes about the character of an individual. To avoid handshake blunders, important factors to consider are business rank as well as proper body posturing.
Suggestions for an effective business handshake:
During an initial introduction, a handshake should always be performed standing, accompanied by eye contact, a smile and speaking the individual's name. In an office setting, the individual initiating a handshake should come out from behind his or her desk so nothing is between the two greeting one another. In a confined setting where it is impossible to stand, the gesture of rising should be accompanied with the handshake.
According to current estimates, more than 48 million Americans suffer from arthritis, 4 to 10 million from carpal tunnel syndrome, and 250,000 from spinal cord injuries and other medical conditions – all of which may hinder handshaking ability. While it may be easy to assume an individual in a wheelchair may have a disability with shaking hands, others with arthritis, fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome may not be so apparent.
Considering these factors may make your handshake – or lack of one, replaced with a respectful nod or short bow – a newsworthy, wonderful greeting.
Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia. She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.