Do you have a limp fish? (and how to handle it)

One of my biggest pet peeves are limp fishes – handshakes that are clammy, weak, and just really awkward. The discomfort for me is exacerbated by the fact that I give a firm handshake myself, and then we both pretend that something totally awkward didn’t just happen.

My most recent limp fish was from a really cute guy I had seen around a lot, but had never spoken to. I heard he was in law as well. So one day, somehow we started talking and I introduced myself and reached out my hand. I was SO surprised and actually super disappointed that he had a limp fish. I had such high expectations! I mean, he was a cute MAN and in LAW SCHOOL for crying out loud! LAW SCHOOL!! How can you have a limp fish if you are in Law School?? My dreams were shattered.

So if you have a limp fish, or you know someone who does, consider this:

Your handshake projects confidence. If you are uncomfortable meeting new people like I am, your handshake can be a huge asset in your first impression delivery. Even if you say very little or fumble your words, when you have a killer handshake, the other party will remember your handshake and probably think you are awesome no matter how badly you think you represented. Use this to your advantage. Go ahead and give a little squeeze!

Women like firm handshakes too. I expect a limp fish from a woman more than I do a man. I am still disappointed, but as least I can rationalize that she is fragile and meek and weak and assumes I am the same, so she shakes my hand like a woman should. REALLY? NO!! Ladies, shake everyone’s hand with the same confidence, firmness, and enthusiasm! Even if you think you are doing them a favor by going easy, don’t. You’re not. You are only hurting yourself. Trust me, it leaves an impression.

One of my best handshakes ever! I was super impressed!

For men: Guys, when you shake a female colleague’s hand, SHAKE it! Don’t do that thing in between that is part limp, part shake, leaving us wondering if you were going to kiss our hand and make a pass, or if you just don’t know what you’re doing. Unless we are courting, your handshake should be the same kind you would give to another man: firm and confident. Women respect a good handshake from a man.

Get in and get out. Don’t hold the handshake for too long. Guy Kawasaki in his book Enchantment suggests a couple seconds is plenty. If you are still shaking halfway into your dissertation on Marbury v. Madison and the History of Judicial Review, then you’ve held it for way too long and your partner is probably kind of creeped out. Plus your hands are now clammy and touching, which is just gross. Don’t be surprised if your shaker bolts to the bathroom to pour some germicide on his now sticky hand.

Bonus points for smiles and eye contact. Smile at the person and make eye contact while you shake. This adds to your self confidence and shows that you are genuinely interested in meeting this person. Guy Kawasaki suggests thinking happy thoughts while you shake. Engage your face and smile with your eyes, too; simply turning the corners of your mouth up makes you look more like a clown, and people are creeped out by clowns.

This post is inspired by Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment, (which I just started reading very slowly (it’s finals time!), but I highly recommend), and by Caren Ulrich Stacy’s networking event, The Art of Working a Room: Networking for Lawyers. Caren is awesome for many reasons, but what I appreciate the most is that she is not a fan of networking, yet she has mastered it as a necessary art form. The photo is of my friend T and I shaking hands – probably the best handshake I have ever experienced!



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