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Professional Networking: Schmoozing for True Beginners, Part 1: The Handshake
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Professional Networking: Schmoozing for True Beginners, Part 1: The Handshake - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Schmoozing for True Beginners, Part 1: The Handshake

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Schmoozing for True Beginners, Part 1: The Handshake

It’s become surprisingly plain lately that even in the most professional of settings with the most experienced people, many of us need to take a step back and evaluate what we know about schmoozing in business and networking contexts. Whether the reason is ever-shifting expectations and practices, or the recent and ongoing influx of a Millennial generation not paying deference to social formalities, certain matters of etiquette are breached far too often. In an effort to restore some semblance of politeness, and to assist those among us who could use a direct explanation, here are some basics of schmoozing in the working world, beginning with the most basic of customs: the handshake.

Schmoozing almost always begins with a handshake, and what your mom always told you about first impressions remains true, so don’t mess up the opportunity. This doesn’t mean you’re trying to be amazing with that handshake. It means you’re trying to seem pleasant. So look people in the eye as you introduce yourself. If you’re from a traditional Asian (and even Asian American) culture, this can be a challenge, because many of us have picked up from an early age that we do not make eye contact with superiors. If you have trouble looking people in the eyes, you have to get over it. Practice with some friends or family members if you have to, and don’t feel stupid about it; you’re not the only one who’s had to practice!.

If you’re a man meeting another man, hold that eye contact as you extend your hand and participate in the Basic Handshake. The handshake should be brief—just a second or two. Reach in, clasp hands with a quick squeeze, and release. No matter what you may have seen on TV, there is no good reason for an extended handshake if you’re meeting someone for the first time. If you’ve become very good friends with someone and haven’t seen him for a long time, a more affectionate, longer grip is appropriate, but for first meetings, just reach in, squeeze, and release. The only normal variation on this is the pump. You might find yourself pumping the other person’s hand up and down, and it’s become standard to let go after one or two pumps. If you’re the type to affectionately hang on to someone’s hand during the handshake as you exchange pleasantries, know that you’re probably making the other person very uncomfortable, and that’s not your intention.

If you’re a man meeting a woman, your safest bet is to let the other person initiate the handshake if she wants to. In formal settings, it’s become normal for men to shake women’s hands, but at networking events, which are mostly social, it’s best not to take anything for granted. If the woman initiates the handshake, the same rules apply from your end, but be prepared for all sorts of variations in return. You may receive the two-handed clasp, where your hand is between both of the other person’s hands. Do not reciprocate in kind. You may receive a lingering clasp or a very firm grip, so just be prepared to adjust if necessary. A few more pumps, a longer clasp, a bone-crunching squeeze, or the friendly hug can all be in play. Handle them all gracefully.

If you’re a woman meeting a woman, the best place to start is with the Basic Handshake, as it’s become the norm in business settings. But again, schmoozing is social, and women have different rules for social introductions. There’s a lot more room for personal expression, so it’s okay to find the style that works for you. If you’re still figuring that out, though, stick to the Basic Handshake.

Two words about firmness of grip: people will judge you unfairly if you don’t offer a firm clasp, and don’t judge others unfairly if they don’t offer a firm clasp. No matter what our grandfathers told us, you can’t judge a person by the firmness of his or her handshake. People are complicated, and it’s just wrong to make early evaluations of people because of the way they shake hands. However, there are an unreasonable number of people who do, so control what you can. Don’t make like a vise, but do give a hand a firm squeeze, and if you don’t receive the kind of shake you expect, let it slide and get to know the person. Schmoozing is more than eye contact and a handshake: it’s connecting. So connect away, and give every benefit of the doubt to everyone you meet.


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Professional Networking: Schmoozing for True Beginners, Part 1: The Handshake - Executive Leadership Articles

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