Business Etiquette NewsletterNetworking

Hand Shaking Around The World

This month I decided to write about the handshake, an age-old tradition, that many people haven’t yet perfected. It doesn’t seem as if it would be that hard to get it right, but if your experience is like mine, you never know what you are going to get when you extend your hand.

Each time I offer a seminar on networking or first impressions, I discuss the handshake. I always ask the audience the same question. “What is the one word that describes the good business handshake?” The answer is always the same, and it is always unanimous. Everyone confidently says, “Firm.” Okay, I confess. Once I heard someone say “strong,’ but that is one out of thousands. How can there be so many variations on the handshake when it is one of the most significant gestures in the world? Especially the business world. It is the unspoken message that accompanies our words.

If you are interested in a little history, the handshake was most likely developed several hundred years ago in England as a method to communicate that you were empty-handed and unarmed during a meeting. Weapons were often concealed in the left sleeve so shaking was done with the left hand. As more people began to travel without weapons it became common to shake with the right hand. Certain historical figures took liberty with shaking hands and created their own custom. George Washington decided that shaking hands was for the common people so he bowed when greeting people in public. Did you know George was a snob?

The intent in shaking hands is to make contact “web-to-web” with the other person’s hand. The web of your hand is that part between your thumb and forefinger. Extend your hand with your fingers together, in a vertical position, with the thumb up and slightly to the side. Once you make contact with the web of the other person’s hand, close your thumb over the back of the hand and give a slight squeeze with your fingertips. This is where so many people go wrong. Some move in for the kill and give a bone-crushing handshake that brings tears to the eyes of the other person. Then there are those who stop at the first hint of contact and never add the little squeeze that indicates there is life and energy in the body. The result is the “wimpy” or “limp” handshake, sometimes referred to as the “dead fish.”

Every country in the world has its own customs for meeting and greeting. As always, you need to do your research on meeting and greeting before you embark on an overseas trip. If you are a woman, this is critically important since certain cultures do not allow women to touch a man who is not related to them.

It is considered impolite to refuse to shake hands but be prepared in case you meet someone who says “No” to handshakes because of arthritis, joint problems or illness. The one who is unable to shake hands should always offer an apology and a brief explanation so the other person does not feel shunned. Occasionally you may encounter someone who does not respond in any way to your outstretched hand. When that happens, simply withdraw your hand and ignore the snub. It’s the other person’s problem, not yours.

There are also numbers of people who simply don’t believe in shaking hands. To each his own, but if you want to succeed in business, shake hands and do it right.

Happy Handshaking!


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Photo from Savannah magazine

Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website,

Lydia Ramsey

Lydia Ramsey is a leading business etiquette and modern manners expert who offers seminars, keynote speeches, webinars and individual coaching. She works with corporations, associations, colleges and universities as well as individuals.

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