My job is weird sometimes, but it serves a purpose. Cindy McCain has her hand crunched in an overzealous handshake in Michigan and I get the chance to school America on the CBS Early Show on one of the most basic social functions: the handshake.
I'm sort of snorting with laughter just typing that right now. I mean, come on, not only should you already know this, but the last place in the world you want to find out you've got it wrong is when you send the wife of a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate to the emergency room. While she's being watched by lots of reporters. Sure the L.A. Times noted that she had a pre-existing condition (carpel tunnel). Regardless, I wouldn't want to be the person to send someone back to the x-ray board.
And the kicker is, it's all for something that's not that hard! To any and all people taught by their elders back in the day to give a good hard squeeze, please unlearn that here and now. Handshakes should be firm, yes. A light squeeze, yes. A death grip to demand your place as the alpha dog, no.
Let's start at the beginning:
1. If you are sitting down, stand up. Men, women and children—all should make this gesture of respect. The idea is to meet someone eye to eye, and to show you are engaged in meeting them. And yes, if you're stuck behind a table, just make that half-up gesture—we all get it.
2. Look the person in the eye. Not the searing stare of laser rays nor the .02-second-glance-before-you-dart-away nervous tic. The ability to look someone comfortably in the eye is a sign of confidence.
3. Smile! The international sign of greeting and welcome.
4. Okay: the shake itself. A complete grip—no fingertips only. Rather than “firm” which can confuse people, let’s say an “engaged” grip. Think about opening a fridge door—that's about how much pressure you need. Maybe a pump or two, but not more than three. And unless you know them really well, don't add the left hand—that's a very personal gesture only.
5. Say their name and give them yours. While it's a nice way to show attention and acknowledgment, it's actually less a point of etiquette and more a good way to help you remember a person’s name if you're meeting for the first time.
Germaphobes have my sympathy, but they also have an out. So shake with a smile and simply excuse yourself to the restroom to wash up afterwards.
And if like Cindy McCain you really can't shake someone's hand? Nod and smile and express in words what the shake says: "Please forgive me for not shaking hands, but know how happy I am to meet you!" One of the key concepts of the handshake is how expected a behavior it is. What if I stuck my hand out to you and smiled and you just looked back at me without taking my hand? Awk-ward!
You could also, if your right hand is out of commission, do the left hand "shake" to their right hand; you more or less wind up gripping their hand with your fingers from above if they give you their right hand. Or you could do a "normal" left on left handshake.
Cindy McCain, your life political life is full of Lefts and Rights of all kinds, and however you choose to navigate this I wish you a full recovery!