Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Questions...and Answers About the Handshake

The handshake can be big news. Consider these headlines:

French World Cup Coach Refuses Handshake With South Africa’s Coach

Bush Wipes Hand On Clinton’s Shirt After Shaking Hands In Haiti

Obama Fist-Bump Rocks The Nation

The headlines could explain why I get so many questions about the handshake from both seasoned professionals and new hires. Many of them haven’t been taught the ins and outs of the handshake. It’s not usually part of a college curriculum.

People send their handshake questions to me via email or ask them during my business etiquette seminars. My blog on August 24 talks about how to shake hands. Other concerns are covered in these recent questions:

What do you do if you can’t shake hands? One woman emailed that she doesn’t want to shake hands because she has arthritis in her hands. She explained, “I am re-entering the job market after a period of retirement and wondering how I can gracefully discourage handshaking.” My answer was to smile and say something, like, “My arthritis is acting up, I’m sorry, I’m unable to shake hands.”

Is it okay to use the fist-bump in the corporate world? The handshake is still the business greeting in the United States and people expect a handshake. I also think it’s too easy to miss the other person’s fist.

I am worried about germs. Do I have to greet people with a handshake? The answer is similar to the one above: people are expecting you to shake their hands and you are excluding yourself from them, if you don’t. If concerned after shaking someone’s hand, find a reason to excuse yourself and go wash your hands. Or, use a hand sanitizer discreetly.

Is it appropriate for the other person to place his or her thumb on top of mine? The thumb should be bent, as illustrated in the photo.

If you have other handshake questions, feel free to email them to me at

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