Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


The Etiquette Of The Handshake – It’s Not For Men Only

“When did women start shaking hands? It feels awkward.”

Recently, a very bright, talented, professional woman asked me that question. Initially, I was startled. Yet, as I thought about the question, I realized that many women in my seminars are reluctant to shake hands, and others do so incorrectly.

In today’s workplace, shaking hands is not for men only. The handshake is the business greeting, and both men and women need to shake hands, and to do so correctly.

One woman said she got her job because she shook hands at the beginning of the interview and at the end. The manager told the woman that he chose her because she handled herself so professionally.

Why do women sometimes feel uncomfortable about shaking hands? The reasons vary:

1. Some women were never taught to shake hands. It is not that these women were told not to do so, it is that they were not taught to do so. One woman in an etiquette class was shocked when she realized that she was not teaching her four-year-old daughter to shake hands, but she had already started teaching her two-year-old son to shake hands.

2. Women bring the personal greeting of kissing friends on the cheek into the workplace. This can be awkward, since you will not want to kiss or hug everyone you meet at work, nor will everyone be comfortable with that greeting.

3. Many women were taught that they did not need to stand when shaking hands. Before each of my seminars, I walk around the room to introduce myself to my participants and extend my hand in a greeting. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of men, but only 30 to 35 percent of women, stand to shake my hand. You establish your presence when you stand. Both men and women need to stand when shaking hands.

You will be judged by your handshake. Be honest: What do you think if someone gives you a limp handshake? Yes, you tend to think of that person as weak and unimpressive.

To shake hands properly, you should extend your hand with the thumb up. Touch thumb joint to thumb joint. Put your thumb down, and wrap your fingers around the palm of the other person. Your grip should be firm, but don’t break any bones – it’s not a competition. Two to three pumps is enough. Face the person, and make eye contact.
And one more thing: It used to be that men needed to wait for the woman to extend her hand. Not anymore. The new guideline is to give the higher-ranking person a split second to extend his or her hand, and if he or she does not, you extend yours. The key is that the handshake needs to take place.

Additional information on the handshake and greetings can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill). Reserve your copy now at Amazon.

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  1. Anonymous5/29/2013

    From a Reader:
    Barbara, this is an excellent article that highlights something that we take for granted -- that everyone knows the importance of shaking hands. But, you are correct about women. And, it's not just older, more experienced professionals, it's also Gen Y. With all the progress women have made, I am shocked to see some young women so reticent to shake hands, while most young men well understand the importance of mastering this skill. And, the point you make about standing to shake hands is also important, as so many still do not connect the dots on this. I've devoted an entire blog entry on standing up!

  2. Anonymous5/29/2013

    From a Reader:
    As a communications professor, I work with college students and the women really don't understand that they need to shake hands in the same professional manner that men do. Drives me crazy...I am going to make them all read this article!

    1. Anonymous2/06/2014

      I was so pleased to read the article to know that women should stand to shake hands with men. It commands their presence. I was told by a bishop once that women should never stand to shake hands with a man. I was doing so to command my presence and because of his rank as a bishop. I think more women should read the article to know that it is expected that women and men should stand to shake hands with everyone.

  3. Anonymous5/29/2013

    From A Reader:
    As many other aspects of etiquette go by the wayside, the handshake unfortunately has also followed the same demise. It's just not part of one's up-bringing anymore which is too bad. Children aren't encouraged to shake the hands of their grandparents who come to visit or anyone else. This is another reason why etiquette training is such a hot market...there's a real sense that we've lost a bygone era of basic good civility.

  4. Anonymous5/30/2013

    From a Reader:
    Stand up, Ladies! Show your confidence through a poised handshake and eye contact. It only takes 2 seconds to get your message across.

  5. Anonymous5/30/2013

    From A Reader:
    In W-Europe, ladies want to be seen as equal and often will shake hands out of their own initiative, although it happens most of all in a business environment.
    In Russia, however, the handshake is a particular thing; The basic theory is that women don't shake hands with men unless they reach out themselves. Depending in the professional activities of the lady, she might be inclined to reach out quite naturally. When women do shake hands, they know how to do it and do it with respect for the other party. Men and women generally stand up when shaking hands.
    In private life, it is a funny situation when two couples who know eachother meet. The men will shake hands and the women might kiss eachother. There will be no physical contact between the man of one couple with the woman of the other and vice-versa. Only good after a while, the women might extend their hands and when a very good bound has been established, kisses can be given.
    In Russia, contrarily to what most think, a lot of behavioral principles are based on respect for the women and elderly. It is the combination of these two contradicting factors that make living over here so interesting.

  6. Anonymous5/30/2013

    From a reader addressing the above comment:
    There are complications and confusion over etiquette between men and women in the U.S., as well; this is true especially with regard to shaking hands, opening doors, pulling out chairs, and so on. I believe all cultures are all still evolving and are at different stages concerning relationship and equality issues between women and men.

  7. Anonymous5/31/2013

    From A Reader:
    When teaching etiquette and protocol classes, I find that participants are often not clear about the differences between social and business etiquette. Thank you for these tips, I will certainly share them.

    Barbara, I look forward to the new book.

  8. Anonymous5/31/2013

    From a Reader:
    Very important article Barbara! I find the same situations in my seminars and workshops as well. In the U.S., women -- not only in the workplace, but all women would benefit from knowing the importance of a proper handshake. Thank you for sharing

  9. Anonymous5/31/2013

    From a Male Reader:
    Thanks, i also find it difficult when it comes to shaking hands with women.

  10. Anonymous6/05/2013

    From A Male Reader:
    Interesting post Barbara.
    In my job, I meet a lot of people and when I meet a woman in a business setting for the first time I always extend my hand to initiate a handshake. But overtime, as the business relationship develops, I tend to hesitate to see what the expectation of my colleague is. If she extends her hand I shake it. If she offers a hug I do that.

  11. Anonymous6/05/2013

    From A Reader:
    Even more difficult may be teaching young people of both genders the proper handshake. Many of them have taken to fist bumps rather than handshakes. And they seem to consider handshakes too "old school" to use among themselves.

  12. Anonymous6/05/2013

    From A Reader:
    I dislike when you shake hands they have to give a tight grip. That goes for either sexes. I have little hands.

  13. Anonymous6/05/2013

    From A Reader:
    Barbara, I believe the correct way is as you describe, however, the arm movement is just once up and then downward. This is the "universally" accepted way to handshaking meaning that it is the way it is done all over the world. This is a good takeaway lesson for business world travellers or anyone else that is meeting someone in or from a different country. Some history for you: the movement of the arm "once up and then downward" was to dislodge any hidden weapon that may be stored up the sleeve of the person you are meeting. Your grip of hand should be firm whether you are male or female. In addition, I believe it is important to stay consciously aware of individuals who may have delicate hands, arthiritis or may be frail. Never disturb the piano player for your handshake. Everyone deserves a fair handshake and no pain.

  14. Anonymous6/06/2013

    From A Reader:
    I have been in business for over 27 years now, and have always instigated the handshake to all people I come in contact with, no matter what the gender. I take a handshake seriously, so when I give one it is done with sincerity, a big smile and I literally put my all in making that first impression which can go along way. It has always been the most important part of any introduction in my business practice. lady's It the most professional thing you can do in any situation of meeting for the first time. It's not just a mans world anymore as we know. Take the initiative, it has worked very well for me.

  15. Anonymous11/13/2014

    I'm in my early 40's. When I was a kid, I was taught to shake a mans hand firmly, and shake a women's hand gently. Apparently, this old, medieval, gentlemen's view of women is completely wrong. If I shake a women's hand gently, and they think I just don't know how to shake hands, I would be fortunate. If they knew that I thought they were as weak as my handshake, I would be fired!!

  16. Anonymous8/26/2015

    Good to know. I always shake hands but I didn't know if I was supposed to stand or not when being introduced to a man.

  17. Anonymous9/20/2016

    I shake friends' hands at church often. Should I be shaking their wives hands as well? I know them pretty well.

  18. Overall it's good information for the readers.


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