The handshake: Getting it ‘just right’

This is one of those important practicalities of leadership – the handshake. With an election looming here in Australia, many can remember that pivotal moment of the 2004 election. The Labor leader Mark Latham’s handshake almost wrestled the then PM John Howard as they passed in a corridor between radio interviews, pulling him close and staring him down. (This was included as #2 in the list Five famous handshakes in history*)

The perfect handshake, not to tight, not too lose, but just right.  The handshake has been a traditional greeting, a symbol of peace and a key part of business deals for thousands of years. New research  reveals that as many as two in three people (70 per cent) have a crisis of confidence when it comes to performing the act of a human handshake.

The importance of the handshake applies equally to men and women – I became used to shaking hands when we lived in Scotland for a year. In that culture it is the general polite greeting for both men and women, and it became a habit I adopted and maintained when I returned home. We (that includes us, girls) don’t have to kiss everyone we meet.

Now someone has quantified it.

Professor Geoffrey Beattie, head of psychological sciences at University of Manchester, devised an equation taking into account 12 key measures. The mathematical formula has been developed for car brand Chevrolet as part of a handshake training guide. Professor Beattie said: “The human handshake is one of the most crucial elements of impression formation and is used as a source of information for making a judgment about another person.” A limp handshake speaks of insecurity and the Latham-style looks like it was attempting to intimidate.

Professor Beattie has come up with the formula for a handshake: PH = √ (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + π{(42)(42)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(42 )(42)}2

The elements of the formula are listed below** but for the regular guy and gal like you and me, what does the professor suggest?

  • use the right hand
  • a complete grip
  • a firm squeeze (but not too strong)
  • a cool and dry palm
  • approximately three shakes
  • a medium level of vigor
  • held for no longer than two to three seconds
  • executed with eye contact kept throughout
  • a good natural smile
  • an appropriate verbal statement

Now that doesn’t seem to difficult?

Top 10 handshake turn-offs (

1. Sweaty palms (38 per cent say it is their top turn off)

2. Loose grip / limp wrist (35 per cent)

3. Gripping too hard (7 per cent)

4. Not making eye contact (5 per cent)

5. Shaking too vigorously (4 per cent)

6. Shaking for too long (4 per cent)

7. Standing too close (2 per cent)

8. Shaking with the left hand (2 per cent)

9. Not shaking for long enough (1 per cent)

10. Hot hands (1 per cent)

**(e) is eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) 5; (ve) is verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) 5; (d) is Duchenne smile – smiling in eyes and mouth, plus symmetry on both sides of face, and slower offset (1=totally non-Duchenne smile (false smile); 5=totally Duchenne) 5; (cg) completeness of grip (1=very incomplete; 5=full) 5; (dr) is dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) 4; (s) is strength (1= weak; 5=strong) 3; (p) is position of hand (1=back towards own body; 5=other person’s bodily zone) 3; (vi) is vigour (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) 3; (t) is temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) 3; (te) is texture of hands (5=mid; 1=too rough/too smooth) 3; (c) is control (1=low; 5=high) 3; (du) is duration (1= brief; 5=long) 3.



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