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13 September 2011 by Heather Dale, People Feature

How a handshake can make a difference

Asset managers are training their client-facing employees in the correct way to shake hands because they say “first impressions are incredibly important”.

Both Martin Currie and Kames Capital, for example, say a handshake can make or break a business relationship.

Steve Kenny, head of retail sales at Kames Capital, says his UK team recently had training with an image consultant to address the issue.

The consultant gave the team some “top tips” for greeting people, Kenny says.

“For example, for those with sweaty hands, [the advice] was to always keep a can of deodorant in your desk drawer to spray on your hands, as people will assume that you are nervous if your hands are sweaty,” he says.

Making a good first impression is vital, believes Toshiko Kobatake, founder of image consultancy Talking Image.

“For people in the financial services industry, portraying trust is crucial, and a simple handshake can easily make or break a deal,” she says.

Ms Kobatake cites American psychiatrist Albert Mehrabian, who said it takes just 30 seconds to form a lasting first impression.

“With so much competition, and in such a difficult economic climate, you don’t want to lose out simply because of a bad handshake.”

For Ms Kobatake, a good handshake is "a firm one", and is always accompanied by good eye contact and a smile. “There is no pulling or thrusting of the arm,” she says.

Examples of bad handshakes include: "the wet fish", which is seen as uninviting and indicates a weak character; "the knuckle grinder", which portrays aggression and can sometimes hurt; and "the finger-tip grab", which suggests a lack of confidence.

Ms Kobatake adds: “Don’t be afraid to hold a woman’s hand firmly. Some men think that they shouldn’t grasp a woman’s hand too hard because they may hurt her hand, but that is wrong.

“Grabbing or grinding is different from a good firm handshake. A good handshake portrays trust.”

Martin Currie says it has previously organised handshaking sessions, particularly for graduates, as part of a course on body language.

Stewart Struthers, director of learning and development at Martin Currie, says: “The ability to shake someone’s hand properly and effectively, without being the ‘knuckle grinder’ or the ‘wet fish’, is important because first impressions count,” he says.

“If handshakes are too weak, aggressive, dominant or passive, it has an impact straightaway,” he adds.

Kames Capital’s Mr Kenny believes that there is very little space between leaving a good impression and an excellent one. He says: “It’s the little things that make a difference.

“In financial services you are judged on what you look like. It is predominantly male dominated and there are an awful lot of ex-military employees, which is why things like personal hygiene and clean shoes are so important.”

Angela Marshall, founder of image consultancy Appearance Management, agrees that people are judged within the first few seconds of meeting someone. She says more than half of that judgement is based on appearance.

“We need to ensure we are giving out the right message. We need to appear confident, trustworthy and, in the right situation, powerful,” she says.
Ms Marshall says a handshake leaves an impression with other people. “It says how professional, confident and sophisticated you are,” she says.
Other factors to consider, adds Ms Marshall, are facial expressions, posture and eye contact.

“Eye contact should be given regularly, about 75 per cent of the time. Steady eye contact will give the impression to a person that you are honest, confident and receptive.

“Generally, men give more contact when speaking and women give more when listening,” she says.
A smile is also a much underrated business tool, adds Ms Marshall. “It conveys enthusiasm, happiness and interest. It is a sign of friendship and fosters goodwill in business. It can also help to relax muscles in your face,” she says.

For booking appointments or enquiries, please contact Toshiko:
Tel +44 (0)20 3489 3319


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