Young professionals: get your handshakes in order

Oh, they matter. If you don’t think they do, you missed it.

Last week, I shook the hand of another young journalist. I suppose he felt eye-contact was uncomfortable, so he looked down, offered me an awkwardly limp, motionless form of his hand for a second and pulled away.

It was a train wreck of a handshake, and I was stunned. I thought that’s knowledge of old, something a generation past figured out and has since become necessary cultural learning. But not for this young man, whose work I enjoy.

Please don’t mistake the old learning of the handshake to mean it’s outdated. All the social media in the world can’t make up for the trust and personal understanding that can pass through a firm interlock of right hands. Any freelancer or aspiring media type needs this skill down flat.

Now, this particular young man has a regular newspaper gig, so maybe I should take a lesson in that, but I can’t help but think he’ll miss something because of his un-handshake.

Esquire magazine had a good feature on the subject back in 2006:

Isn’t a handshake just another grim layer of social obligation? Isn’t there a reason it’s called glad-handing? Well, for a person who’s interested in influence, social obligation is more of a tool than a barrier, one that demands use and examination. And it’s only glad-handing if the shake is cheap, insincere. So I went forth, spending the better part of two months searching out the perfect handshake while crafting a better one for myself.

In that period, I shook hands with a candidate for county commissioner, two priests, three general contractors, an ice-cream salesman, a U. S. senator, a typewriter repairman, a dry cleaner, three women playing shorthanded bridge at a sandwich shop, seven of my son’s friends, my ex-wife, her new husband, a woman selling jelly at a New York State Thruway stop, six bellmen, one hotel desk clerk, a concierge, four maitre d’s, a guy who runs a moving company, a sawmill operator, two cops, one professional card dealer, a mathematician, a biologist, a “sandwich artist,” the captain of the Maid of the Mist IV, two parking valets, one waiter, two waitresses, a yogi, and three NBA players. In the process I had my arm rotated like a piston on a steam engine and my shoulder jerked practically out of its socket. I received seven shake-appendant gangster hugs. My hand was brushed, crushed, scratched, and double squeezed.

I found that if I held on just two beats longer than usual, people stopped what they were saying and eyeballed me. They saw me. This worked particularly well with people who were working for me–the desk clerks, the bellmen, the valets, the concierge. I knocked down at least one suite upgrade with that alone. I also discovered that if I gradually increased the pressure of a shake, people would automatically smile. Really. It was like I was blowing up some balloon in their face. Unless you went at it too hard. And once I had them smiling, then, well, I had them. [Source]

Don’t misunderstand, it certainly isn’t a male-only phenomenon, though I do suggest there are different, higher standards for a man in the realm of the handshake.

Point is, anyone who gets work through trust, like a freelancer with a deadline and a kill-fee, a handshake can mean a great deal when you finally do meet that potential editor.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.