Why Fishy Handshakes Stink. What Your Handshake Says About You.

Your challenge today is to think about how you shake hands. I know, you’re thinking, oh brother, she must be hard up for a post. No, not at all. The next 5 times you shake hands, think about what you’re doing.

We all know that the initial impression we make on people is critical to how they perceive us, particularly when we are in a job search. So it’s not just a matter of our clothes, hair and fingernails. It also has to do with how we carry ourselves, whether or not we make eye contact, our smile and yes, our handshake.

As a woman working in a man’s world for 20 years, I can tell you that the way a man shakes my hand says a great deal about how he perceives me (and perhaps women in general, but maybe it’s people in general). As a youngster, I was taught to walk confidently into a room, make eye contact with individuals, even adults and to give a firm handshake accompanied with a smile. My mother wasn’t a business person, but she knew good manners and I’m fortunate that she drilled them into me.

I was taught to avoid the following kinds of handshakes, the:

  • Dead Fish – ick, it’s all folded over and just lays there
  • Pump – no, up and down, up and down, one pump is plenty
  • I’m Stronger Than You Are – pressure way too hard for the other person
  • Sorry You’re a Girl – a wimpy little handshake that says,” I don’t take you seriously”

There are, of course, exceptions. If I have a cold, I make sure I tell the other person that I am not shaking hands due to illness. The momentary awkwardness of saying that I am not shaking hands today, is immediately forgotten with a grateful sigh.  Please don’t shake my hand and then take out a tissue and blow your nose. Really. I think your mother raised you better than that.

Fishy handshakes stink!

Fishy handshakes stink!

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  • By Edwin Ritter, July 21, 2009 @ 3:41 pm

    Well said! Eye contact – don’t forget to look them in the eye when you shake hands.

  • By Deborah, July 21, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

    absolutely. and don’t forget to smile! thanks for the comment.

  • By Pauline Wilcox, July 22, 2009 @ 5:13 am

    A firm, confident hand shake speaks volumes. This is particularly important when going on an interview. As Deborah stated, not a hand-crushing firm hand shake, but something that shows confidence and let’s the other person know you’re alive and healthy. A handshake won’t get you the job but there have been many occasions when a bad handshake added to a ‘thumbs down’ vote from the interview team. After meeting and interviewing hundreds and hundreds of candidates, I know the value of a good handshake.

    If you’re unsure how you’re coming across, shake hands with people in a safe environment, ask for feedback, and adjust until you get better and it becomes natural. And above all, it must be genuine. In my workshops I talk about the power of physical communication. A hand shake and a smile can communicate volumes.

    Deborah, thank you for raising this valuable topic.

  • By Deborah, July 22, 2009 @ 5:32 am

    thanks Paula. Your experience is helpful as many people think the ‘small’ things don’t really count.

  • By Doug Hitchcock, July 22, 2009 @ 6:13 am

    no, you’re not hard-up for a blog post. We need to be reminded daily that a face-to-face greeting includes many “courting rituals” including the handshake. Add to the list eye contact, nametag worn on RIGHT lapel (eyes drift there), and a warm smile to go with the non-fishy handshake. BTW, we haven’t met face-to-face, so we’ll have to practice all of this sometime…

    Doug is seeking high-technology marketing and business development where my handshaking and selling skills can be used to satisfy customers.

  • By Deborah, July 22, 2009 @ 6:19 am

    Doug, thanks for the comment. Face to face isn’t getting a lot of play today but it is the best way to get to know someone. Great tip on nametag. Mine always looks scrunched. Lately I have been putting just my twitter handle on my name tag @dmourey so people can find me. Draws interest and conversation. Looking forward to meeting you F@F soon.

  • By Graeme Roberts, July 22, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    I totally agree with everything you said, Deb. Several times I have wanted to tell a man to deal with his dead fish handshake, but discretion is the better part of valor. My late uncle was a politician and he had the “stronger than you are” shake. He squeezed my mother’s hand so hard that her diamond ring cut into her finger. Not necessary!

  • By Deborah, July 22, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

    Graeme, thanks for the comment. This ‘stronger than you are’ handshake is worse than a fishy one. Now is a good time to remind ourselves to be gracious., at work, out in the world and at home. I won’t hold it against you that your uncle was a politician if you won’t hold it against me that I’m Irish. lol

  • By Dara, July 24, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    I, too worked in a male dominated field for a long time and am very tuned in to how handshakes feel. I think it’s a shame that so many women have wimpy handshakes. It doesn’t help with their credibility!

  • By Deborah, July 24, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

    Hi Dara, thanks for the comment. This post seems to have hit more of a nerve with men and women. When I mentor both men and women, I talk to them about handshakes. Hopefully, we can help younger women to understand the negative impression this can leave with people. We’ll do this one handshake at a time!

  • By Brian Kane, May 23, 2012 @ 2:20 am

    Deb, you said it: smile. And, when you shake someone’s hand, don’t forget to let go!

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