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Sticky Situation: A Lesson In Handshaking For The Trumps Among Us

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Sticky Situation:

The water cooler talk is still about U.S. President Donald Trump. And this time it's about his handshakes.

This newfound fascination is interesting considering that it was not that long ago that this president was almost a self-declared germaphobe, like Howie Mandel. The Donald, entrepreneur with a pink silk tie, avoided these exchanges for fear of contracting viruses and preached reverence as a greeting of choice.


Now at the head of the United States, he has completely reversed his tactics. Instead of pushing back, he pulls others into his bubble. He "sandwiches" the other's right hand with his left or "affectionately" burps their backs, like we do to a baby.

His counterparts and even the members of his own entourage are visibly uneasy with these tows. Some have even strategized ways to maintain their professional space. The prime minister of Japan rolled his eyes. Vice President Mike Pence jumped up and stayed on his "X" while Trump tugged him in to finish the accolade with a thumb twist to his chest.

Our own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was obviously prepared and maybe even role-played his handshake. With direct eye contact and a confident handshake, Trudeau firmly placed his left hand on his host's right shoulder to quickly define "his bubble." We almost heard him say, "This, is my border Mr. President."

Trump's handshake talks. Trudeau's does, too. And yours, do you know what it says about you? What about those of your team's members? What do your clients feel or your potential partners perceive?

trump shakes hands japan
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with president Trump (R), Feb. 10, 2017. (Photo: Jim Bourg/Reuters/TPX Images of the Day)

Solution(s):

As surveyed among my coaching and conference participants, here is the list of the five worst handshakes. Read on for my advice on what to avoid when giving or receiving a handshake.

The crusher

GIVING: Adjust your handshake to respect the other's size.

RECEIVING: Communicate the tightening of your hand. No, not by grinding your teeth, but by but gently spreading your fingers to inflate your hand. Ahh, better now. Right?

Oops, there it goes!

GIVING OR RECEIVING: Offer to start over. "Oh, la la, please excuse me. I think we can do better. How about starting over again?" Then go for it. Shake.

The slippy shake

GIVING: If you tend to have sweaty hands, write to me julie@etiquettejulie.com and I will send you tips to make sure that your stays dry.

RECEIVING: Look at the other person's face to detect clues, non-verbal signs of proximity discomfort, pain or nervousness.

Your handshake should announce equality, not domination or submission.

The pumper

GIVING: Be aware. Stay focused and in the moment. A couple of "pumps" are just perfect.

RECEIVING: Gently relax the grip and spread your fingers. The other will instinctively soon release the pressure and remove his hand.

The damsel in distress

GIVING: Unless you are in a position, role or social situation where you expect to receive a "baisemain," present your palm as well as your forefingers. Make a complete palm-to-palm contact.

RECEIVING: Gently shake the hand that is presented to you, as is. Do not force your palm in.

I am always amazed at the small number of people who have had an official lesson in this universally recognized professional greeting, that announce intentions of peace, builds loyal ties and concludes contracts.

trudeau trump shake hand
Prime minister Trudeau (L) shakes hands with president Trump, Feb. 13, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

For you or whoever needs it on your team, here is an eight-step lesson on shaking hands:

Whether you are a man or a woman, a good handle that broadcasts confidence and credibility:

  1. Begins with clean dry hands. Basic yes and a definite must. Do it.
  2. Is done standing. Your posture is paramount.
  3. Is introduced with direct eye contact and a sincere smile.
  4. Starts with the thumb of your right hand, straight up. A thumb to the side, not aligned to the hand of the other, will quickly become an Oops, there it goes (see above)!
  5. Gathers your fingers together. There is no gap between them.
  6. Shows an open palm that slightly faces upwards.
  7. Makes complete contact with the inside of the other's palm, while your fingers firmly enclose it, without crushing.
  8. Shakes simultaneously, in sync with the other, once or twice, from top to bottom.

Your turn now. Practice. Ask for feedback. Teach it to your subordinates or recruits.

From "Hello! " to "Done deal," your handshake should announce equality, not domination or submission.

You have a sticky situation at work or at home? This is your forum. Write to Julie and she will reply. Want more solutions to sticky situations? Go to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or order your autographed copy of Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility. Planning a conference? Julie happily travels coast to coast and beyond, to present customized activities. With Julie's help gone will be awkwardness, embarrassment and faux-pas.

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