Get a Grip on Great Handshakes

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A firm, friendly handshake can help retail sales associates make an instant connection with shoppers

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It’s one of the most famous handshakes in cinematic history: actor Tim Matheson glad-handing his way through the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” saying, “Hi. Eric Stratton, rush chairman. Damn glad to meet you.”

Funny, yes. But is it the kind of handshake we encourage retail sales associates to offer mattress shoppers? Yes — and no.

Sleep Savvy gives Stratton points for his confidence, solid grip and friendly attitude (although he’s way too friendly with the girl he swoops in to kiss). Yet the rush chair lacks the sincerity we’d hope to see mattress RSAs exhibit.

Why is a handshake an important part of an RSA’s greeting? This simple, familiar act helps create an immediate connection with shoppers and, by its very nature, allows RSAs and shoppers to quickly get on a first-name basis. 

In an August article for the lifestyle website The Spruce, Debby Mayne offers this guidance to get your handshake in shape

  1. Start by extending your hand, making eye contact and offering “a sincere smile to show that you are happy to be where you are.” If your hands are damp, blot them discreetly on your slacks or skirt before extending your hand, Mayne suggests.
  2. Be sure to include a greeting, something simple that includes your name, like, “Hi. I’m Marguerite. Welcome to Mattress Store Zzz.”
  3. Keep your handshake firm but not crushing. “You don’t want to offer a limp hand because it gives the impression of weakness,” Mayne says. “… Be firm but not overpowering.”
  4. “Most people prefer shorter handshakes,” Mayne says. That means two to five seconds. “If the other person continues holding onto your hand longer than five seconds, politely withdraw your hand,” she suggests. “Maintain eye contact and a pleasant expression afterward to maintain a positive interaction.”
  5. Be aware of your other hand. In the United States, most people use their right hand for handshakes, so keep you left hand by your side, unclenched. “Don’t have your left hand in your pocket because this appears defensive,” Mayne says. And avoid using your left hand to touch the person’s shoulder or clasp his hand. Those gestures can seem overly familiar in a retail setting.
  6. Use an up-and-down motion. “The handshake shouldn’t go back and forth or side to side,” Mayne says. “Don’t pump the other person’s hand more than three times.”

We offer a couple of caveats to all this advice. First, some people avoid handshakes to keep from spreading germs and may prefer a quick fist bump.

“Even if you don’t care for the practice, show respect for the other person and do a proper fist bump,” Mayne says. “It’s easy. Just make a fist and make gentle contact with the other person’s fist.”

Second, many people have physical ailments, such as arthritis or Parkinson’s, or disabilities that make a handshake tricky or painful. If you suspect a shopper might have difficulty shaking your hand or if she seems reluctant at all, skip it, welcoming her to the store with just a warm greeting and your smile.

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