We’ve all experienced a bad handshake. Chances are, you remember who it was and still carry a negative impression of the person attached to that hand. This first impression is the reason learning to develop a great handshake is so important. Is your handshake ready to go global, though?
The basic handshake can be seen in dozens of instructional videos or podcasts online. Offer a vertical hand, make contact web-to-web, wrap your fingers around, grip gently but firmly, squeeze and shake a few times, then release. Pretty simple.
Did you know there’s a few nuances from culture to culture? There are. A typical Canadian greeting can seem rude or inappropriate in another part of the world. Here are a few tips on proper handshakes and greetings from culture to culture. If you’re going to go to international job interviews, you may want to consult an experienced Executive Career Coach who is comfortable advising on matters of cultural fluency.
Australia: Allow a woman to offer her hand before shaking. Some women in Australia do not shake hands with other women, and it’s polite for men to wait for a woman’s hand to be proffered here. The actual handshake is firm and brief, just as in Canada.
Brazil: Firm handshake with strong eye contact is respected most. Women often add a brief cheek kiss when shaking hands with women, but let the other party initiate. Less personal space is expected, and touch (a hand on a shoulder or elbow) is common. Ensure you greet and say farewell to each person, the personal connection is valued here.
China: The Chinese prefer a light, longer lasting handshake with a slight bow. Age and rank are valued here, so shake hands with the eldest or most Senior person in the room/party first. Use your whole name and company name during the handshake and introduction. The vigor of the actual shake indicates pleasure in the introduction, which is a valuable cue.
France: A light, quick handshake in a business greeting. A social greeting will often begin with the handshake and end in a light, quick hug or double cheek kiss. A social greeting is not appropriate in a business setting here.
India: A slight bow with palms together at chest level is most common. Some will offer a light, quick handshake and slight bow.
Japan: Bowing and introductions are an art in Japan. It’s best to get advice from your company or from a professional very familiar with Japanese customs. The degree of bow depends on your age and status, and carries a strong message here.
Mexico: Handshakes are longer, same grip, and often end in a light hug. Personal space is less guarded here, and standing close and talking close are common.
Middle East: Shake only with your same gender. Nod to the opposite gender instead of a handshake. Gentler, limper handshakes, and the final hold is much longer than Canadian handshakes. When possible, shake the hand of the eldest person in the party and use their title. Eye contact with the opposite sex is considered rude and inappropriate.
Russia: Business introductions require handshakes without gloves, but for social introductions Russian men will often kiss a woman’s hand. Farewell handshakes follow the same rules. In general, it’s wise to wait and see which gesture the woman expects, a hand offered wrist up is for a light kiss, wrist in shaking position is appropriate for a light handshake. Shaking hands in a doorway is considered impolite.
Singapore: Light, brief handshakes with a small bow are preferred here. Offer business cards with two hands. Introductions are formal with full names and titles.
South Africa: A strong, firm handshake is expected here. A hard grip is the norm, although not usually painful. Lighten the grip a little for the elderly.
South Korea: The handshake is initiated by a person in the senior position. Koreans prefer a softer grip than in Canada, and the handshake is accompanied by a slight bow.
Switzerland: The use of names and honorifics (Mr., Ms., Dr.) during a handshake is important here. As for small talk during introductions, personal conversation is for social situations here, so keep to general topics.
Thailand: Handshakes are uncommon here, return a bow for a bow instead: Place your palms together at chest level and give a slight bow. When handshakes are offered, a light, quick shake with a small bow is appropriate, but please note that women do not shake hands here. Allow the oldest/Senior person to begin the greeting. A deeper bow toward the eldest/most senior person is appropriate and appreciated.
United Kingdom: A moderate grip handshake is preferred here, and take care to respect personal space. Standing too close, or reaching out to touch during conversation is rude.
United States: Introduce yourself by name and offer a firm handshake with some eye contact, it’s fine to introduce yourself first. Personal space is respected here, and standing or talking too close will make Americans uncomfortable.
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