To Shake or Not to Shake

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When should you shake a customer’s hand?  How long should you make eye contact?  These questions may seem elementary, but the answers can be complex.  What country are you selling in?  What time of day is it?  Are you meeting with a man or woman?  Older person or younger?  There is no clear-cut, yes-or-no answer.  Shaking hands and eye contact are critical in job interviews and a sales call.

Shaking hands is one of the most important elements of body language for interviews, says a Forbes article.  A sales call is the same as a job interview.  You’re trying to get the customer to “hire” you to be his supplier of goods, products or services.  For the best handshake, match palms with your customers, lock you thumb on his and apply the same amount of pressure.  A couple of shakes up and down, and release.  Putting your other hand on top of the shaking hands or on the customer’s upper arm is patronizing and a little too friendly for a first meeting.

That’s the how of shaking hands.  When would approaching a customer or prospect with an outstretched hand be a bad idea?   The popularity of social media has put a distance between individuals.  Instead of face-to-face, we reveal our personal selves online within the safety of social media sites.  Shaking hands is becoming a thing of the past.  When people can select and deselect their friends on Facebook, a customer may want to take a few moments before completing an action as intimate as a handshake.

Individuals are a lot more health conscious, reluctant to make physical contact with a doorknob, let alone another person’s hand.  Some refuse to shake hands at all, even if you’ve just given yours the once-over with hand sanitizer.  Don’t sneeze and expect someone to willingly shake your hand. 

Harvey MacKay, author and motivational speaker on sales, suggests the best time to shake hands with a customer is after the sale.  Let people get to know you and feel comfortable.  An opening handshake is automatic, but not usually sincere.  A closing handshake following a productive meeting can signal the customer wants to meet with you again.

Eye contact is an important element in shaking hands and in conversation.  Having a meaningful conversation is difficult when a digital device is the most fascinating thing in the room.  A person’s attention (and eyes) can drift down to their Smartphone while having a conversation, attending a meeting or even at an intimate dinner.  The fear of missing out (FOMO) on social opportunities has been identified by some psychologists as the uncontrollable need to glance at a digital device.  It’s OK to stare at a screen.  It doesn’t care that you stare it for hours on end.  But try that with another human being and they may call the police.  There is much less hassle dealing with a phone or tablet than another human being.

Eye contact is a useful, powerful tool for communication and connecting. How long should you keep someone’s gaze?  Lifting an eyebrow or lowering your eyes can send some powerful messages.  Ben Decker, of Ben Decker Communications suggests holding a gaze in a one-on-one conversation for no more than seven to 10 seconds.  Three to four seconds if you’re in a group.

If you’re interviewing for a sales position, your eye contact gives an interviewer a taste of how you’ll interact with a customer.  Put your best handshake together with comfortable eye contact and you’ll be hard to resist.

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