How does one give a proper handshake?
Delivering a proper handshake can make or break your first impression on a person. A handshake that’s too limp or weak can convey weakness or lack of self-confidence, while one that’s too strong or crushing can convey hostility. A well-executed handshake is one that conveys self-confidence, trust, and a genuine interest in the other party.
There are several factors contributing to a good handshake, from start to finish. Let’s try to cover them as thoroughly as possible here.
When not to do it
Firstly, it is rarely inappropriate for one to give a handshake. A handshake is generally common courtesy during most introductions, and when greeting a familiar person. Some instances where a handshake may be inappropriate follow:
- When one or both parties have their hands full, and it would be inconvenient for them to set the burden down. In this instance, one should simply nod and smile, and perhaps make verbal acknowledgment of the greeting or introduction. If you are the one carrying the burden, do not try to rearrange your load just for the handshake. This could lead to an awkward situation involving loss of balance, and possible breakage of objects you are carrying.
- When there is a large table between you and the other party. Again, simply smile, nod, and verbally acknowledge the greeting or introduction.
- When you are behind a desk. Get up, walk around your desk, and then offer your handshake. Do not offer the handshake from behind your desk. This could convey an air of mistrust.
- When you are sitting. Unless you are physically incapable, ”always” stand for a handshake. Stand also for an introduction where the other party is standing, yet a handshake may still be inappropriate (i.e.: other party is approaching to sit at the far side of the table at which you are seated.)
- When the other party is of much higher status, and you have nothing of value to discuss. In such a situation, shaking hands simply to introduce yourself may make you appear pushy.
- When you are a male greeting a female in a casual setting. In this case, it would be polite to accept a handshake if the female in question offers it. Otherwise, “smile and nod”. In a business setting, however, treat a female just as you would a male, when handshakes are in question. If you should accidentally offer a handshake to a female when one may be inappropriate under this rule, the situation may seem slightly awkward, but still not usually regarded with negativity. Just don’t let it happen again, mister.
Although the above are situations where a handshake is generally inappropriate to offer, one should ”never” decline a handshake when one is able to accept it. (i.e.: not carrying a large load of luggage in his arms) Declining an offered handshake when it is easily possible to accept one can convey an air of mistrust and hostility.
During the handshake
Now that we’ve decided whether or not to offer the handshake (or have accepted a handshake offered to us), let’s discuss what should happen during the handshake:
- Eye contact- Once your hands have met, you should make eye contact and maintain it throughout the handshake. If you’re particularly coordinated, or gifted with great peripheral vision, make eye contact prior to the handshake, and maintain it for the duration.
- Grip- Grip with your whole hand, not just the fingertips or just the thumb. Make it firm, but not crushing. A good help for learning this would be asking a friend to help you practice your handshake grip. In most situations, you should only use one hand. Using both could convey hostility, or intent to overpower, or romantic intentions.
- Position- Your body should be approximately two cubits (distance from fingertips to elbow) away from the other party. Your shaking arm should be bent so that the elbow forms a 135-degree angle, and the forearm is level with the floor. Your hand should neither be on top, nor underneath the other person’s hand. Both parties’ hands should be straight up-and-down, even with each other. The web of your hand (skin running between the forefinger and the thumb) should meet the web of theirs.
- Shake- Should be smooth, not limp or over-enthusiastic. Shake from the elbow, not the wrist or the shoulder.
- Flow- Before the handshake, establish eye contact. Break eye contact, if needed, to extend your hand to meet theirs. When the web of your hand meets the web of theirs, re-establish eye contact and engage your grip. Shake two or three times, for a duration of 1-3 seconds, breaking off cleanly and smoothly before the introduction is over.
Some other tips for when you’re anticipating a handshake:
- If carrying a drink and food, carry the drink in your weak hand to avoid a clammy hand when shaking. If caught with the food in your shaking hand, set the food down if it is convenient. If unable to do so, “smile and nod”, and apologize for having full hands.
- If your hands tend to be naturally cold, keep your shaking hand in your pocket to warm it up for awhile before entering the handshake situation.
- If your hands are damp, try casually wiping them off in your pocket or on the back or side of your jacket or pants, shortly before the handshake.
- If your hands tend to be particularly sweaty, and you’re expected to be doing a lot of shaking at an event, try putting some unscented antiperspirant on your hands prior to the event.
- If someone else has a poor handshake, do not correct them. Some exceptions may be if you are mentoring the other person, or the other person is a close friend who will take the advice as being for their own good, rather than as a rude chastisement.