The act of shaking another person’s hand has been around for centuries. When our ancestors held swords, it was a way to tell other sword-wielding gentlemen ‘I am unarmed, I come in peace’. Today we do not need to communicate quite the same message. Yet, in business handshakes still communicate two very important messages: trust and respect.
An interesting thing I have noticed throughout my travels is that each country has their own unique handshake style. From the strength of the grip to the number of times you shake, handshakes can differ greatly. If you are not aware of these cultural differences you could walk away from an important business meeting with a costly wrong impression.
French Style Handshakes
If you travel to France for business, you will probably notice that handshakes are generally soft and short. The first time I shook hands with somebody in France, I left with the impression that they were not fond of me. Now looking back, I know that a loose grip and only 1-2 shakes does not mean the other person is shy, impatient, or that there is something wrong with me: it is simply the French style handshake.
Japanese Style Handshakes
Most people when they travel to Japan are mentally prepared for things to be different. However it is the unique combination of simultaneously shaking hands and bowing that for me took some getting used to. You should expect a relatively soft handshake with about 2-3 pumps, and at the same time a slight lowering of the head and shoulders. This action of lowering the head and breaking eye contact in a Japanese style handshake is not a sign of shyness: it is a humbling sign of respect.
American Style Handshakes
The American handshake is all about power and strength. It is probably the style that I am the most familiar with coming from an Anglo-Saxon background. The strong grip, full web-to-web contact, and length of the shake (2-3 pumps) could make the unwitting business traveller fall over backwards and walk away feeling like the inferior party. When reality is, the strength of an American handshake simply intends to convey confidence and sincerity.
We probably all agree that much can be said in a simple handshake. And, like any form of communication it is subject to our own cultural filter. So, what message do you intend to send in your handshake? What message do you think the other person will read from your handshake?
[Header image courtesy of www.sxc.hu/Freepik.com. Graphics added by Kara Ronin.]