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  • What does your handshake say about you?

    There’s a lot that goes into forming how people perceive your personal brand.  Google results, blog posts, what kind of photo you use, and even how you tweet.  But, I bet there’s one part of your personal branding efforts you haven’t thought much about: how you shake hands.

    My senior year of high school, I was accepted into a mentorship program that only selected a few students from each local high school.  It was very hard to get into, so we were all incredibly excited on the first day.  We couldn’t wait to begin learning important things that would help us be successful in our future careers.

    So, when Jeannie (the program coordinator) asked us to form a line to “learn the most important lesson of the program”, we jumped to our feet and rushed to be at the front.  Imagine our disappointment when we were asked to come up to her one-by-one to shake her hand!

    As Jeanie explained to us, how people shake hands forms a huge part of a first impression. And it was incredibly important to her that we represented the program well when we met our mentors.  In fact, it was so important that we had to stand in front of the entire class shaking hands with her until we got it right!  (As you can imagine, we learned fast!)

    As a matter of fact, she was right about the importance of shaking hands correctly.  A recent study showed that people who have good, firm handshakes fare better in job interviews.  This is because the warm feeling of a handshake releases chemicals that inspire trust – and thus set the tone for the rest of a person’s interactions with another.  Another study found a link between a firm handshake and extroversion/openness.

    So if you’re trying to influence how people perceive your personal brand when you meet them, it’s really important to know how to shake hands correctly.

    What should you be thinking about when you shake hands?

    First, do no harm.

    The best way to completely ruin a first impression is to physically harm the person with whom you’re shaking hands.  Some people shake hands with so much pressure that it feels like they’re attacking the other person. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of those handshakes, you know what I mean.  If you don’t, you might want to check your grip.

    Also, try not to wear dangerous accessories when you think you might be shaking hands. Some rings have sharp edges that can really hurt.  Keep that in mind.  And, under no circumstances should you wear your family’s heirloom poison ring.  That’s just bad form!

    Second, remember that shaking hands is a big deal
    Another common mistake people make when shaking hands is to treat their handshakes as an afterthought.  They either reach out with a limp hand and let the other person make all the effort, or they pay so little attention to the handshake that they mistakenly grab a few fingers instead of the whole hand.  Both of those leave the other person feeling slightly off-kilter.

    Networking events also have plenty of missed opportunities for good handshakes.  People are caught by surprise when they’re holding a drink with their right hand (resulting in an attempt to salvage the situation with a left hand shake) or they run into someone they desperately want to meet right after washing their hands (resulting in the dreaded wet-hand shake!)

    Finally, be confident and practice.
    To shake hands correctly, extend your hand with the thumb up, keeping your wrist straight.  Grasp the other person’s hand firmly, look them in the eye, shake once or twice, and then release. Don’t be afraid to be the first person to extend your hand, and if there’s some reason you can’t shake (e.g. you’re sick), let the other person know that you’re not rejecting them.

    If you don’t know if you’re shaking hands correctly, practice! Ask your friends for help – and make them tell you how your handshake feels to them.

    It might seem strange to practice handshaking, but it’s a part of personal branding that’s often overlooked.  Since a bad handshake can have such a negative effect on how people view you, however, it’s worth making sure you’re doing it right.


    Katie Konrath writes about “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped” at getFreshMinds.com, a top innovation blog.

    Katie works with Fortune 500 companies to help them generate new ideas based on consumer insights at leading innovation company www.IdeasToGo.com. She’s worked with creativity guru Edward de Bono and uncovered new ideas across North America and Europe. Prior to that, she earned a Masters degree in Creativity and Innovation from the Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking in Malta, was certified as a Lateral Thinking trainer, and studied at the TRIZ Institute in St Petersburg, Russia. She writes the leading innovation blog, GetFreshMinds.com.

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