April 5, 2020

Let’s talk about handshakes…

As some of you may know, I am chapter president for Capital University’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. 

We see ourselves as one of the go-to pre-professional organizations on campus, covering things like how to make a proper resume, how to use LinkedIn, how to approach the job application process, etc.

During one of our meetings this semester, our group discussion went off on a tangent when the topic of the handshake came up. As a guy, I never really gave much thought to the notion of the handshake until then, but for a woman in the workplace and even in personal life, the handshake is, at times, a potentially demeaning social construct.

Maybe this is why some companies are planning on banning handshakes, and all other forms of contact between coworkers, altogether. In light of things like the Me Too movement, some companies may want to avoid the possibility of problems involving physical contact between coworkers, so that means just banning all physical contact between coworkers.

I decided to follow up with one of the speakers from said PRSSA meeting to ask her to expand upon the points she made surrounding handshakes. For her, handshakes are different depending on gender in all cases, even between extended family members.

Kelsey Kimmelman, a Capital alumna who now works at research and development firm Battelle, has plenty of experience with handshakes throughout her professional career and personal life. Being a woman in the workplace, she sees herself shaking hands less than her male colleagues. (Image provided by Kimmelman)

Kelsey Kimmelman is an alumna who currently works in Internal Communications for Batelle, a research and development company in Columbus. She says that she rarely shakes hands with someone at work except for in a job interview.

“I’ve noticed that my male colleagues shake hands much more readily than I do,” Kimmelman said.

When it comes to greeting family members, usually a hug is expected rather than a handshake.

“My husband often shakes hands, in an informal way, with my relatives, particularly the men in my family,” said Kimmelman. “I don’t think I’ve ever shaken hands with any of his relatives — male or female.”

So, what if you have to shake someone’s hand in the professional or personal context?

Maybe I overthink this, but I’ve seen everything from the limp handshake to the overly-strong handshake to the fist-bump-instead-of-a-handshake handshake. The list goes on and on. I’ve even had a mistake where I tried to give someone a handshake but then the other person (my age) went to dap me up.

The proper handshake, according to etqiuettescholar.com, involves five easy steps, they are as follows:

  1. Stand near the person you want to shake hands with (and make eye contact).
  2. Extend your right hand (and smile).
  3. Grasp the middle of their hand (so that the webs of your thumbs are touching).
  4. Pump their hand two to three times.
  5. Release their hand and lean back.

Glad I got that one sorted. Shaking hands is confusing and awkward at times, but as long as you don’t make it awkward, it won’t be awkward, right?

  • Zach Ferenchak is a current Junior studying Emerging Media with an emphasis in PR. Along with managing social media for The Chimes, Zach serves as the Chapter President for Capital University's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. He is an avid communicator who hopes to one day elevate brands and causes through effective storytelling.

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