Firm and forceful or wet and wimpy, salespeople encounter all kinds of different handshakes. But what do they all mean?

Handshakes are a common form of greeting across the world, but different handshakes say different things about the participants. Sometimes those differences are cultural—many countries have tacit rules about who should exchange a friendly hand with whom—and sometimes those differences have more to do with temperament and psychology. In both cases, a successful salesperson should know how greetings vary from person to person and culture to culture so that you’ll always know how to shake hands at the next sales conference and beyond.

The American classic

Different countries have different ways of greeting one another. In America, the most common handshake consists of a firm grasp, eye contact, and a statement of your name, usually followed by some pleasantry, like, “Nice to meet you.” Both parties typically move their clasped hands up and down two or three times (hence the hand “shake”). For best results, add a smile! For most salespeople, this will be the go-to handshake for American business encounters.

Global greetings: How to shake hands with salespeople from different cultures

If you’re meeting with a client in another country, however, or if you’re meeting with a foreign client in the United States and you want to impress them, it’s helpful to know how to shake hands in those particular countries.

Clients from the UK, for example, will expect a light handshake with both parties standing relatively far apart so that there’s almost no bend in the elbow. Similarly, France uses a quick, light handshake that gets right to the point and moves on just as quickly.

If you’re in Turkey, you’ll still want to avoid firm handshakes, but you will want to spend some time holding the other person’s hand. This can be uncomfortable for some people from American culture, but it’s the norm for Turks. Take the other person’s hand, don’t shake or squeeze, but just hold gently to a count of five or until they disengage, whichever comes first.

Another gentle hand-shaking country is Morocco, but they also have a cultural practice you’ll want to observe: Whether for business or pleasure, you only shake hands with members of the same gender.

If you’re still craving that hearty handshake, do business in Brazil. Expect a firm and long handshake with lots of eye contact, both during the initial greeting and when the meeting is adjourned and all parties part ways.


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Different handshakes, different meanings

Cultural differences aren’t the only thing to consider when you think about shaking hands with clients. Just like any body language, different handshakes communicate important information to the other party. It’s important to make sure that your handshake conveys the same message you intend to send during your meeting.

For example, most of us have experienced the “dead fish” handshake. This is when your handshake is so light and flimsy, it’s like shaking a hand that has no bones. Avoid the dead fish handshake during business meetings; it indicates a passive and indifferent personality. (However, it’s important to take note of any clients who offer a dead fish handshake. You’ll want to work harder to impress them.)

On the flip side, there’s the “bone crusher,” which is exactly what it sounds like – a handshake so firm the recipient feels as though he or she will need a cast at the end of it. This handshake communicates confidence and dominance, but is usually over the top. Be mindful of how hard you grasp someone’s hand, especially if it seems small or delicate. You’ll ruin your good impression if you actually do break someone’s fingers!

The “hand hug” may be one of the most useful handshakes for business. It starts with a regular handshake, not too firm, but not too flimsy, and then you take your left hand and cover the other side of the person’s right hand. This is supposed to convey warmth, honesty, and trust.

If you want to demonstrate your dominance immediately, shake the other person’s hand with your palm facing downward so that theirs has to face upward. This puts them in a submissive position from the beginning and says that you intend to run the show. This handshake is simply called “the dominator.”

Finally, be wearing of the sweaty palm shake. Sweaty palms are a natural occurrence when you’re nervous, but that’s exactly why you want to try to keep your hands as dry as possible. Keep tissues in your pockets and dry your hands on them before important handshakes to cover up any indication that you might be more nervous than the other person. Remember, different handshakes communicate some things we want, but also some things we don’t want.

How to shake hands in sales

Whatever handshake you choose, whatever country you’re in, do so with confidence. There are many different handshakes and few if any of them will completely botch a business meeting. Just be aware of the first impression you’re making and do it with gusto. That will ultimately count for more than whether your handshake is firm or loose.


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Have you had any interesting experiences with different handshakes? Tell us your story in the comments below.