In a Handshake

"Hi, nice to meet you. My name is (fill in the blank)." Extend hand. It's the simplest of exchanges and you may engage in it several times in a day, typically without giving the experience much thought.

But hidden within such a seemingly simple exchange are numerous opportunities to find favor or fumble. In a first meeting especially, stakes are high; studies have repeatedly found that a person's immediate critique sticks, regardless of whether she's judging an Internet site or a potential mate.

The first hurdle is subtle: the handshake. The best way to convey a solid image of yourself right off the bat, hands down, is with a solid handshake.

Possessing the traits that define a firm handshake and a split-second ability to win hearts go hand in hand, according to a study conducted at the University of Alabama. A winning handshake has several identifiable characteristics.

It is strong and vigorous. Your grip is complete. It lasts three to four seconds. You make eye contact while doing it.

Women tend to assume that certain confident behaviors that work well for men backfire for women. For example, a man who monopolizes a conversation might be seen as intelligent and self-assured. A woman, on the other hand, could be perceived as pushy. While such a take may be accurate about some maneuvers, it doesn't apply for the handshake.

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"A firm handshake," says Alabama psychologist William F. Chaplin, "may provide an effective initial form of self-promotion for women." One, he adds, that "does not have the costs associated with other less subtle forms of assertive self-promotion."

The message is clear: A firm handshake is a safe way for women to exude confidence while sidestepping negative perceptions such as aggressiveness.

Here are a few handshaking tips that may grab approval:

  • Men and women should stand when receiving an introduction (unless standing would be prohibitively difficult).
  • Keep drinks in your left hand in situations where you are repeatedly being introduced. No one likes a wet or cold handshake.
  • Don't offer your hand for a shake if the other person has his or hers full.
  • Removes gloves (except when it's painfully cold).

Other factors contribute to the effectiveness of the first handshake. This is not the moment when you want to forget a person's name; it conveys lack of interest. Some tips to keep you on track:

  • As soon a person says her name, picture it on her forehead.
  • Throw the name into that first conversation: "Nice to meet you, Lucy."
  • Rhyme the name with a physical characteristic of your new acquaintance, "Pale Cale." Or create alliteration with the person's profession, "Mary the Musician," for instance.

Whether you're aware of it or not, body language adds a lot to the encounter. Use it to your advantage. A UCLA study finds that about 93 percent of a person's effectiveness in communication shines through body language. To keep those odds in your corner:

  • Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back and lift your head
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Keep your body squared to the other person's to convey that you are receptive and unafraid

Last but not least, a stony face would nullify all your efforts. When you put out your firm hand, smile and show that you're open and harmless.

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