Don’t let greeting pull you down

Some women entrepreneurs, while excelling at online social networking, are behind the times in real-world social skills — specifically, shaking hands. Many will offer me a limp shake or even shake with the wrist up as if waiting to be kissed on the wrist by me.

My father taught me to “stick your hand out, squeeze a little bit, pump up and down a few times, look ‘em in the eyes and say something useful.” I have it down well enough not to make a bad impression — especially important for entrepreneurs because we represent ourselves and our new venture, and we often only get one chance to make an impression. To modify advice from Coco Chanel: Shake hands like a limp fish, they notice the shake; shake hands impeccably, they notice the woman. Carol Thompson of the Thompson Group has an excellent handshake — firm, friendly, impeccable.

Of the many variations on the basic handshake — some will grab your elbow, put a hand on your shoulder, twist the shake so your wrist is underneath — the “pull and kiss” is of special interest to women and is very common in entrepreneurial circles. This is when a guy, preferably one you know well, shakes your hand and literally pulls you in for a kiss on the cheek.

Some will say a kiss on the cheek between business associates is too familiar in any context and should be spurned, while others will initiate it with almost everyone.

I don’t advocate such rigidity. In entrepreneurship you build very tight bonds with your team, and teams always exchange more than handshakes. Certainly, mixed-gender teams have hurdles to team bonding. Whether it’s deemed political correctness or general decorum, we can’t go around the boardroom flicking towels at each other or smacking each other on the rump. But I also don’t want to be completely unapproachable. As an entrepreneur, I welcomed a nice kiss on the cheek with a treasured colleague.

The key is to execute the pull and kiss so that it’s genuinely warm and leaves both with a feeling of camaraderie, not awkward and leaving you feeling embarrassed. To do that, keep in mind that the pull and kiss is more than a kiss on the cheek; it also includes a sturdy tug to be prepared for.

My first pull and kiss disaster was with a former U.S. senator with the biggest hands in the world. At one event he shook my hand then pulled me in for a friendly peck on the cheek. I was already off balance in my nonsensible heels, and when he pulled me, I stumbled forward so that he had to catch my elbows with his Paul Bunyan hands. “Easy there,” he said — as if I had jumped him.

On another occasion, a pull-and-kisser who was also a longtime investor pulled me in so surprisingly fast I ended up colliding with his chin and got a mouthful of aftershave that left a taste for hours. Yet another pull-and-kisser pulled me so out of whack that, while I avoided falling, he kissed me directly on my eye ball and was left with mascara on his lower lip.

So what to do about the pull and kiss? I don’t want to block a friendly kiss on the cheek, but I also don’t want to fall anymore, as occurs when the man’s pull overpowers the woman’s. Meanwhile, a pull and kiss from a less treasured “cologne bather” is hard to physically resist if he weighs twice as much and my lovely Franco Sartos are already leaning me toward the pull.

After the eyeball-kissing incident, my husband, Eric, and I started practicing the pull and kiss move to help me avoid making future scenes. We discovered that I could remain standing even during a strong pull and kiss — and even in heels — if I kept my right foot out in front. This enables me to adjust on the fly. For the welcomed pull and kiss, I can shift my weight slightly forward and avoid falling or kissing the wrong facial feature. For others, I can shift my weight decidedly backward to avoid the maneuver altogether — and without seeming too purposeful about it. Problem solved.

With a little practice, anyone can handle the pull and kiss gracefully. Entrepreneurial teams often form close bonds, and in mixed-gender teams a kiss on the cheek is about all we have to show those bonds. But how about less pull?

If you know a woman — entrepreneur or not — stuck in the wrist kissing past or whose handshake makes a powerless first impression, take her aside and give her some pointers. If you have doubts about your handshake, look for Carol Thompson and stick your hand out, squeeze a little bit, pump up and down a few times, look her in the eyes and say something useful. If you get it wrong, Carol will tell you.

Terry Chase Hazell is entrepreneur-in-residence at Texas State University, San Marcos.