11/06/2012 07:33 EST | Updated 12/16/2012 05:12 EST

Is Your Handshake Cringeworthy?

Limp noodle. Dead fish. Bone crusher. These are just three terms that are commonly used to describe the less than stellar handshakes we've all received at some point in our career. Other labels include icky, nasty, wimpy and downright painful.

Isn't it remarkable how a simple greeting can have such a huge impact on our impression of someone's level of professionalism? As judgmental as it may sound, in our business culture, the character of one's clasp can speak volumes about the presumed calibre of their credibility.

Countless clients, opportunities and partnerships have been lost because of lame handshakes, and plenty of poise has plummeted when someone's gentle grasp is met with a vice-grip hold.

You know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of these handshakes, but how do you know if you're the one giving them?

The fact is, most of us have never been taught how to shake hands; it's one of those things we figure out as we go along. It's also true that the vast majority of people whose palms we press will never outright tell us if our handshake sucks. Instead, they wince, flinch or cower.

Watch any late-night television show or political broadcast, and you'll see everything from fragile fingertip folding to feisty fist-bumps. And, while we need to be mindful of the myriad cultural, medical, religious and psychological reasons behind other people's greetings (or lack thereof), it is equally important to recognize how ours is being received.

What's acceptable these days? How can you tell if your handshake is respectful or revolting? Here are six steps to save you the worry of wondering how your mitts measures up.

1. Don't wait: Today's North American business culture is gender-, age- and seniority-equal. Men don't need to wait for a woman to extend her hand first, nor do women need to wait for a gentleman to start the process. You will exude confidence by extending your hand without hesitation to everyone you meet, no matter where they fall in the pecking order of your profession.

2. Stand up and look 'em in the eye: A handshake is considered a formal business greeting as well as an indication of sealing a deal, agreeing to disagree, or parting company. For those reasons, it's advisable to stand and make eye contact when you're about to shake hands, as a show of respect.

3. Avoid obstacles: When accepting someone's outstretched hand it's best to make sure there are no physical objects between you and the other person. That means coming out from behind your desk to greet people in your office and walking around a table or chair when you meet people in a restaurant or boardroom. Do not, however, invade someone else's personal zone. If you enter the work space of a person who offers their hand across their own desk or table, accept it, obstacles and all.

4. Start a web cast: Both feeble and fierce hand grips are often the simple result of physically misplacing our hand. To avoid unintentional dainty or death-like grips, make sure that the web between the thumb and index finger on your right hand meets the same web on the other person's right hand before you confidently grasp your fingers around the back of their palm.

5. Shake it up: A good handshake is one that is firm, crisp and has a beginning and an end. Two or three shakes, which originate from the elbow rather than the wrist, are about perfect. Any more than that can be considered lingering, and one single shake can seem curt rather than courteous.

6. Just say no: Whether you're sick, injured or just plain grossed out by shaking hands, you can still be diplomatic and professional when meeting others. Illness, for example is a prime reason to decline a handshake. Rather than share your germs, you can say something like, "I'm feeling a little under the weather today. May I offer you my business card instead of a handshake?"

If you're not sure how your handshake feels to other people, it's okay to ask a trusted friend, family member or colleague to evaluate it. Constructive feedback will enable you to create worthy welcomes, and you will gain confidence and earn the respect of everyone you interact with. The quality of your handshake is a big deal, and it can make or break your success. Let's shake on it!