Handshake Horror Stories

hand shake horror Have you been the victim of a wimpy, cold and clammy, bacteria-laden, or bone-crushing handshake? Everyone has. Recently I talked to people about their "handshake emergencies." Here are a few of my favorites ...

My biggest horror story was the financial adviser who while shaking hands rubbed his middle finger against my palm! And didn't think there was anything wrong with that!!

-- Robyn Hatche, Speak Etc.

I learned the art of the handshake from my grandfather and the elders at church. The handshake was always firm, looking you in the eyes, and holding for a count of about two seconds. A tip for handshaking with people who like to squeeze too hard: Push your hand as far as possible into the space between the thumb and pointer finger and you will feel no pain from even the tightest grip.

-- Scott Keatley, director, Nourishing NYC

I shook hands with Hilary Clinton: two-handed and clammy.

-Maria K. Todd, CEO, Mercury Healthcare

There is this guy in town who has the clammiest handshake; it doesn't matter what time of day, year or season, his hands are dripping wet. And he insists on shaking hands every time he sees me. I mean, I'll hide behind a pole, or grab something to hold so that he can't shake, but he will go out of his way to shake hands, he will actually wait until my hands are free so that he can shake hands. I finally got around it by doing a fist bump thing. I told him once that I had a bad cold and did this to avoid germs, and now, so far, so good. We fist bump, and everyone else in our group does that; and hopefully we are avoiding germs as well as that wet dripping fist of his.

-- Tom Falco, The Discount Printer

In Orthodox Jewish circles, unrelated men and women don't touch. This leads to the awkward problem of what to do if someone of the opposite sex extends a hand for a shake in a business setting. Most rabbis agree that if it will lead to embarrassment for the other party, a handshake is permitted. I knew an Orthodox Jewish girl who was interviewed by my non-Jewish manager. The interview went well and she was offered the job. My manager extended his hand and said "Congratulations." She put her hands behind her back and said, "I don't shake hands with men." Needless to say the offer was rescinded.

-- Izzy Goodman

I have always suffered from cold hands. If I'm on a job interview or at a networking event, I keep a disposable pocket hand warmer (like the kind you would take on a ski trip) in my pocket. Ill grasp it for several seconds before shaking hands. This helps boost my confidence and reduces my fear that I will be judged because of my chronic cold hands.

-- Andrew Rosen Jobacle

I was at a business meeting and a man I had met once in a business setting put his arms out for a hug! I extended my hand firmly for a handshake and he kept his arms extended wide until I finally had to walk away. Later he approached me during the networking portion of the meeting and extended his hand in a way that I can only describe as sarcastic and asked why I was so "stand-offish" earlier. I was so shocked all I could say was: "Well you're a man and this is work." It was a bit off-putting but also comical.

-- Laura Connell, editor/curator, For Those About To Shop

Years ago, when I was getting ready to graduate, I was invited to interview at a bio-tech firm. When I was brought in to meet a VP of the company, he stood, sneezed into his bare hands and then extended his hand to me; which, since I was job-seeking, I shook. I then kept my right hand dangling off the edge of my chair taking care not to touch anything. I felt like I was on 'Candid Camera.' His desk was covered with a tissue box, cold medicine, cough drops and other sick paraphernalia. I quite literally ran from his office at the end of the interview to the ladies room to wash my hands!!! While they did offer me the job, I went to work for a pharmaceutical company instead.

-- Jodi R. R. Smith, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting

One of the worst experiences is shaking hands with someone who wears aftershave and has it on his hands; you end up smelling it all day. Many brands do not readily wash off.

-- Claudia Miller

At a networking meeting I met a man who looked like he came out of a page of GQ magazine. All faith was lost in his macho GQ appearance when he gave my girlfriend and me a limp, wimpy handshake. We were stunned and looked at each other and knew we wanted to get away from him as soon as possible. Later our suspicions were confirmed when we saw him shaking hands with another man, perfectly fine. As women, we hate it when a man has a double standard when shaking hands with a woman, especially in a professional setting. Pass!

-- Syndi Seid, Advanced Etiquette

In 1962 I was in eighth grade and President John F. Kennedy came to visit my town. Busloads of kids were present to greet the president. As JFK came down the line, I noticed he was not actually shaking hands but lightly grasping the ends of fingers, then quickly releasing and moving on. I've leaned since this is a trick used by politicians an celebrities so they don't end up with swollen mitts after shaking a zillion hands. Crafty fellow that I was, I positioned my hand with my fingers pointing down so when he reached to grip my fingers I was able to slip my hand through and grip his had firmly. I then gave him a manly eighth-grade shake. He look at me and smiled with what I thought was a "good one, you got me" smile. I was not political in 1962, but I sure liked JFK after that day.

-- Quentin Eckman

As a person in the public eye, I do a tremendous amount of appearances and signings, which put me directly into contact with all different types of people. On one specific occasion, I shook the hand of a very unsavory character. Right before he shook my hand, he wiped the sweat off of his forehead with his hand. It was not just wet -- it was slimy. I did not want to be rude to a fan, but it was such a disgusting experience, I had my agent stop the line so I could douse my hands in antibacterial hand sanitizer. I'll never forget that!

-- Brimstone Kucmierowski, CEO Hound Comics

What are the rules for an appropriate handshake? And how do the rules differ in different countries and cultures. I spoke to a few experts to find out the do's and dont's of the handshake.

Handshake etiquette in the United States

Lisa B. Marshall, host of the podcast The Public Speaker, offers these tips to perfect the American handshake.

  • Eye contact: A good handshake begins with eye contact, a smile, and good posture. These are three very powerful non-verbal behaviors that communicate confidence, trust, and sincerity. They make you more attractive, approachable, and memorable.
  • Stand up: If you need to shake someone's hand and you're sitting, stand up; it's a basic sign of respect. The idea is to meet in the middle, ending with your left foot slightly forward. It's like a right-handed batting stance; it'll give you balance and leverage should you need it.
  • Stay to the right: Next, reach forward with your right hand, keeping your elbow in and slightly flexed. Always use your right hand, unless the other person's right hand is unavailable. This means, when you are networking, keep drinks in your left hand, so that your right is available for shaking. Your hand should open. Your palm will be perpendicular to the floor and your thumb will be pointing upward. Be sure to fully expose the web of your hand -- that's the fleshy part between your index finger and thumb.
  • Web-to-web: It's critically important that the web of your hand touch the web of the other person's hand, first, before your fingers wrap around. Many people think it's the firmness of the overall grip, but really it's the tightness of the connection at the webs.
  • Squeeze: Wrap your fingers around the other party's palm. And finally you squeeze. Researchers suggest that to be perceived as open and extroverted, you need to squeeze firmly. The strength of the grip should be strong enough so that you're applying and feeling a comfortable pressure, as when you hold a hammer or baseball bat.

Remember it isn't a contest; it's a greeting. Crushing grips are just overbearing and obnoxious. Limp fish grips are unimpressive. Both women and men make a good impression with a firm handshake. So, it's important to practice and check your hand pressure with several people to be sure you are communicating confidence and camaraderie.

The international handshake

According to Andrew R. Long, author of 'How to Rock the Corporate World,' in Asian cultures, handshakes are weaker, and too strong of a handshake is considered rude. In Arabic-speaking countries, the greeting "As-salamu alaykum" (peace be upon you) accompanies a handshake. And in many European countries, it is appropriate to kiss one or both cheeks while shaking hands. In Turkey and Morocco it is appropriate to shake with both hands simultaneously.

In Russia, be sure to remove your gloves before shaking hands; not to do so is considered rude. In China, where bowing or nodding is the appropriate form of greeting, one should wait until a Chinese person offers his hand before shaking. It is inappropriate for a man to touch a woman in public. In Africa, a handshake is the accepted form of greeting as it is in Brazil, though in Brazil one or two pumps is not nearly enough. Be sure to shake hands with everyone present in Brazil, and be aware that women in Brazil greet each other with cheek-to-cheek air kisses. In Japan, the bow is the traditional greeting, but you may be offered a hand to shake. Japanese handshakes are not as firm as American handshakes.

Kathie B. Martin, president of The Etiquette School of Birmingham adds that in the United Arab Emirates, men generally shake hands with each other. Some men will shake hands with businesswomen, but the woman should wait until a man extends his hand to her to shake. The more traditional greeting between men is for the men to grasp each other's right hand, placing the left hand on the other man's shoulder and then exchanging kisses on each cheek.

Next: What Does Your Handshake Say About You?

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