Believe it or not, your handshake can make or break your first impression on people you meet, both in business and everyday life. A limp or feeble handshake can make you seem as though you lack confidence, and crushing grip can come across as hostile or immature. A good, firm handshake will communicate confidence, trust, and sincere regard for and interest in the other person.
That being said, it’s usually safe to say that it’s almost impossible for a handshake to be the wrong thing to do. In most introductions, a handshake is generally expected. Now, obviously, if you or the other individual have their hands full, you can smile, nod, and verbally greet the other person. When I meet someone who’s really got their hands full, I usually take this a step further, if I’m not rushing to get anywhere, which pretty much always the case. (Here’s why). I’ll say, ‘I’d shake your hand, but you’ve got a lot to carry there. Let me give you a hand with that.’
Since I’m rarely in a hurry, I usually have time to lend a helping hand, during which I strike up a conversation, build rapport, and therefore have an opportunity to see whether I can genuinely be helpful to the other person’s business goals. No matter what the outcome, I’ve probably made a new friend, and I’ve had a chance to further develop my people skills.
There may also be situations where a handshake is awkward, like when there’s a big table between you. I’m pretty short, so reaching across a large table isn’t easy. I’ll smile, acknowledge the other person, and, depending on the situation, I might gesture as though I’d like to shake hands and then say, ‘I’m a little small for reaching across a table this big, but we can always shake hands later if we haven’t become enemies by then.’ This always gets an amused chuckle, and breaks the ice nicely.
I never offer a handshake from behind my desk, though. It can make you appear mistrustful, suspicious, or even arrogant, because the desk is a physical barrier between you. I get up, walk around the desk, and then offer my handshake. If I’m sitting, I stand, unless it’s impossible or really impractical to do so. It’s also better sometimes not to shake hands right away with someone who is of a much higher status unless you have something of significant value to say right away. In that kind of scenario, I’ll smile, verbally greet the other person, and just try to be a good listener, only contributing to the conversation when I have something to say that will be useful. This may seem counterintuitive, but humility is usually appreciated, and your watchful silence will be regarded as wisdom when you do speak, because that silence gives you gravity when your motives are right.
If you’re a man greeting a woman in a social setting, it’s usually not best to offer a handshake. If she offers it, fine. In a business setting, a handshake would be appropriate. In almost any situation, if someone offers a handshake, it’s appropriate to accept their handshake. Not doing so will usually convey hostility or suspicion.
Once we know we’re going to shake hands with someone, there are some things which should happen during the handshake. The first is eye contact. If at all possible, eye contact should start just before the handshake. If your coordination isn’t that great, just be sure to make eye contact as soon as your hands come together. Maintain eye contact for the whole handshake, and smile.
Your grip should be firm, but not bone-crushing. Use your whole hand. A good guideline is to make sure the webbing of your thumb is in contact with theirs. This will also make it harder for people who do have a crushing grip to squeeze any rings you might have on into your fingers. You can always practice your handshake with a friend if you’re unsure of your grip. Use only one hand in most cases. For some, using both hands can give an impression of hostile or even romantic intentions.
You should position your body about twice the distance from your fingertips to your elbow from the other person. Keep your arm bent so that your forearm is roughly level with the floor, and your hand should be straight up-and-down. Shake from the elbow. Shaking from the wrist will seem awkward, and going from the shoulder can easily be too vigorous. Shake 2-3 times for about 1-3 seconds and break cleanly.
If you have naturally hold hands, keep your shaking hand in your pocket to warm it a bit before the introduction. If you’ve got a drink, hold it in your non-shaking hand so that you don’t give a clammy handshake, and if you’ve got sweaty hands keep a handkerchief in your pocket.
Test your new handshake on close friends or colleagues, and ask for feedback as you continue working on it. You’ll be glad you did.