Business Greetings, Handshakes, & Other Mistakes

the classic

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Have you ever thought about how many people you greet in a year?   On average, on typical days, it could be one to two people per day.   If you’re going to trade shows or business events, that number goes up exponentially.    You could easily get to 1000 people in a year.

How do we greet all these people?

For women, it’s relatively straight forward.   Two choices:   handshake or hug.   That’s it.   If it’s someone they don’t know or don’t know well, they shake their hand.   If the person is a person they know fairly well, they hug.   Every now and then, the other person will go in for the hug when the woman is only planning on a handshake, but that’s just a little bit of awkwardness.

For men, this only scratches the surface.    For men, it’s stressful.   With men, we have more than a dozen acceptable greetings.   Here’s a short list:

  • The Classic Shake
  • The Classic Shake with a left handed overgrasp
  • The Classic Shake plus a Fist Bump
  • The Classic Shake with a one armed hug
  • The Two Handed Hug with no body contact
  • The Two Handed Hug with full body contact
  • The Two Handed Hug followed by a two cheeked kiss (if you’re European)
  • The Arm Wrestle Grab/Shake
  • The Arm Wrestle Grab/Shake with a left handed overgrasp
  • The Arm Wrestle Grab/Shake with a one armed hug
  • The Arm Wrestle Grab/Shake with a one armed hug with a fist bump follow-through (really!)
  • The Fist Bump by itself
  • The Fist Bump with a two armed hug
  • The High Five
  • The High Five followed by a Fist Bump
  • The Classic Shake with a two cheeked kiss (only if you’re European)
  • The Wave
  • The Finger Point (usually combined with a “Hey Buddy” greeting)

And the price for getting it wrong is high.    The wrong handshake greeting can lead to millions of dollars in sales losses, not to mention sending the wrong social signal which has all sorts of awkward implications.   Lord help the man who goes in for the Arm Wrestle Grab with a one handed hug when the other guy is planning on a classic shake.   The social stigma that follows can be devastating.   Heck, in some villages across the globe, a man can be put to death for that.

When you’re a guy, and you’re approaching another guy, whether it’s a business setting, a social setting, or on the basketball court, you have to “read” the approach.   The guy is coming at you.   What’s the angle of his arm?  The angle of his hand?   His body language?    If he has both arms out, you can pretty much tell he’s coming in for the two armed hug.   The only question is if it’s no body contact or full body contact and if there’s going to be a two cheeked kiss afterwards.   Wow…I’m sweating just thinking about it.

If his arm is up at shoulder level, you know it’s going to be either a Fist Bump or an Arm Wrestle Grab.   Of course, not all Arm Wrestle Grabs are the same.   Some are up high.   Some are medium.   The medium ones are a little more intimate and usually followed by a hug.   And how long do you hold the hug?   Some guys…they hang on for life.   Other guys, they bang off you so fast it’s like they think you have a disease.

One of my favorite greetings is the Classic Shake with a left handed overgrasp.   It’s definitely meant to imply greater intimacy and closeness.   If it’s a long lost friend, this works.   If it’s a sales guy you’re meeting for the first time, hold onto your wallet.  Tightly.

My other favorite is the Classic Shake plus a Fist Bump – If you’re over 18, it’s probably inappropriate.   If you’re over 25, you were probably in a fraternity in college.   Let it go.    If you’re over 35, you’re probably in sales.    If you’re over 45, you’re in denial.   And, if you’re over 75, it’s perfectly acceptable.   The challenge – what if you’re over 50, but you’re greeting a 9 year old?   I say…go for it!

I coach my 13 year old son’s basketball team, and every week we have basketball practice.   I greet eight 13 year olds and about a half dozen dads aged between 35 and 55.    The greeting stress is overwhelming.   Sometimes I don’t even want to go to practice just thinking about the greetings.   With the kids, it’s mostly Fist Bumps, Arm Wrestle Grabs, Hugs, and various combinations.   With the dads, I don’t even know.   My head is swimming.   After we won our first game of the season, most of the dads wanted to hug me.   Then we lost our next four games.   I didn’t even get a handshake after that.   I got a wave.

In October, I’ll be at the SugarCRM Partner Conference in Portugal.   Next week I’m going to be in New Orleans for Sage Summit, the annual trade show for Sage Software.   If you see me at either of these events or anywhere else, please give me plenty of notice which handshake greeting you’re going in for.    Classic, Arm Wrestle Grab, Fist Bump…it’s all good.   Just give me a heads up.   And, if I move in to hug you, and you’re just planning on a Classic Shake, cut me some slack.