The handshake

You only have 7 seconds to make a good first impression.That's it. And even though it may feel like you have no control over how others judge you in this short space of time, there really is a lot you can do to make sure you radiate your best and true self.

We talk a lot about nonverbal communication. It can help you to make that first impression great - so let’s start with tactile communication: aka the handshake.

We don't communicate through touch very often in our professional interactions; entering someone's private space is something that makes people uncomfortable and it could be misinterpreted. Here in New Zealand (other cultural contexts change the rules), usually the only moment that we touch each other during a conversation is during that good ol’ handshake. So let’s zoom in on it a bit.

How many people dread the limp hand or wince when someone squashes your hand as if it needs to be ‘dominated’?

Think of the handshake like this: your hand is like your business card. But with the added complication that four senses come into play when you reach out and shake someone’s hand.

The other person looks at how you approach him or her, listens to what you say when you shake hands, and clearly feels something (strength/weakness etc.) Even their spacial awareness is switched on....getting nervous already?

Don’t be. You can master the art of the handshake by learning the 4 key elements :

* Visual:*

• Make sure you make eye contact before you extend your hand for the shake

• Keep eye contact during the shake

• Look away after the shake is finished (otherwise you will come across as threatening)

• Make a clear extension of your arm when you shake

• Both shoulders need to be facing the other other person

• Lean in slightly toward the other person

• Have a pleasant and relaxed smile on your face and relaxed forehead

* Auditory:*

• Say the name of the person you are greeting in your welcome statement

• If you introduce yourself, make sure your name is clearly stated with a downward inflection at the end

• Keep the pitch of your voice low (for that “commanding” presence)

• Make sure the volume of your voice is suited to the distance and other noises around (surely you can remember cringing when somebody “boomed” at you in a crowded setting - or straining to hear someone who spoke too softly)

* • Clearly articulate - no mumbling!*

• It always implies a bit of added authority when you say a bit more than just: “Hi, how are you?” - have a few extra greeting lines ready

* Tactile:*

• Use a firm grip when holding somebody else's hand - not too forceful, not too loose - how you would check an avocado for ripeness :-)

• Keep your fingers together; don't spread them over the other person’s hand

• When you shake the other person’s hand, try not to be too forceful and shake from your elbow. Avoid having a stiff arm that shakes from shoulder down...

• Use your senses to know when to break contact. We all know how uncomfortable it can be when somebody holds contact too long, but a lot of people retreat too quickly from a handshake. If you want to express authority, hold the other's hand two seconds longer than you normally would, without retreating and all the while keeping eye contact

• Depending on the situation, you could incorporate your other hand: one hand shakes, while the other covers the hand or holds the shoulder. When you do this, you are really establishing your authority (This is what the father like figure or your boss would do and of course, this is where you enter the game of power-play that politicians seem to enjoy)

• Obviously, make sure your palm of your hand is not sweaty or wet

* Proxemic:*

• When we shake somebody's hand it is very important to realise that we are close to entering somebody's intimate space (0.5m). That's why it’s significant - it implies a greater intimacy and trust. Try, however, to honour the other's intimate space and stay in a 0.5m - 1.2m range of him or her

• The closer your feet are to the other (entering this intimate space) the more uncomfortable it becomes. Instead, you can lean in slightly to give the impression that you are committed to talking to the other person, which lessens the tension

• Obviously, if you know the other person well, these distances can change, and same again with the game of power-play. How many times do you see a politician pulling the opponent in (toward the politician) while he or she shakes the other person’s hand?

Some believe the handshake evolved from ancient times as a way to show you mean peace: approaching someone and extending a hand that held no weapon. (Hmmm….still makes you think about the way politicians do it, though, doesn’t it?)

It's a lot to think about. But don't just think - practice! Enlist the help of a partner or friend and make a fun night of it: you might even try out the worst and best handshakes on each other!