Is your Verbal Handshake like a wet fish?

Categories: Winnthinks

Do you know what I mean if I say someone has a handshake like a wet fish? Horrible, isn’t it. Limp, listless, perhaps a tad moist. Not the sort of handshake that screams “Trust Me!” More of a message of “Trust? Meh….”

Or what about those handshakes that are a little TOO firm? I experienced this once in a wedding line-up, when Father of the Bride, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the occasion, squeezed my hand so hard my dress ring cut into the neighbouring finger and made it bleed. At best insensitive, on another occasion I may have interpreted it as downright aggressive.

It’s endlessly entertaining watching the leaders of nations meet and greet each other on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street; the power play that goes into their official handshaking is something to behold.

University of Alabama psychologist William F. Chaplin, Ph.D., ran a study* that backs up what our instincts have told us all our lives: that when someone has a ‘good’ handshake, we instantly judge them well. The opposite is also true. A ‘good’ handshake is about strength, energy, an appropriate duration, eye contact, completeness of grip. Definitely something to cultivate if we want to get on in life.

Think about the way you answer the phone as your Verbal Handshake. If our physical handshake delivers a powerful message about our trustworthiness and level of interest in the other person, our Verbal Handshake does exactly the same thing. If you’ve ever called a company and been answered by a tired and listless “hello, can I hell-pew…” then that’s the equivalent of the wet fish, right there in your ears.

So here’s three easy steps to delivering a firm, friendly, professional-sounding Verbal Handshake to your callers:

1. Set up a consistent telephone greeting format that everyone uses. This should include a word of welcome and the name of your business at the very least. If you decide to include the giving of names as standard, bear in mind that names are unlikely to register with your caller if it’s the first thing they hear. Something like “Welcome to XYZ Company, my name is Daisy, how can I help?” has all the right ingredients in an easy-to-hear order.

2. Receive transferred callers like the Pro you are. “Hello?” is not, and never shall be, the correct way to receive a transferred call. Ideally, you will know the name of the person being transferred to you if the handover has been well managed, in which case you can greet the caller by name, confirm your own and offer them your help. Even if you don’t know who is on the line when you pick up, say “Good morning, you’re speaking to Joe, how can I help?”

3. Find your Voice. I said above that a ‘good’ handshake is about strength, energy, duration, eye contact and completeness of grip. This is your Verbal equivalent, so ENGAGE! Sound like you WANT to speak to your caller! Pace, pitch, clarity, liveliness of tone – get these right and the rest of your call will go better. Get them wrong and you’ll be pushing uphill for the rest of the conversation.

If you do a lot of your work on the phone, I maintain that getting the Verbal Handshake right is the single most effective thing you can do to make your job easier. Go on, listen to yourself next time you pick up. Would YOU want to speak with you after that?

*Handshaking, Gender, Personality and First Impressions (William F Chaplin, Jeffrey B Phillips, Jonathan D Brown, Nancy R Clanton, Jennifer I Stein (University of Alabama, 2000)