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How to Give a Perfect Handshake: The 20 Do’s And Don’ts

When a handshake fails, things can get awkward quickly…

And since you only get ONE chance at a first impression, here’s how to shake hands – the right way.

Why Handshakes Matter

Handshakes are a crucial part of your first impression.

Handshakes even affect the outcome of negotiations.

That’s why I collected the best tips from body language and business etiquette experts… and put together the 20 do’s and don’ts for a perfect handshake.

A proper handshake should:

  • Convey confidence
  • Respect all the rules of etiquette
  • Avoid awkwardness and embarrassment

Handshakes are pretty universal. There are only a few cultural differences. If you’re in a new place, it’s best to just check about local customs.

For most business (and personal) settings the following 20 rules are everything you need to know:

Here Are the 20 Do’s And Don’ts

  1. DO shake people’s hands! As the Art of Manliness points out, there’s almost never a bad time or place to shake someone’s hand when you meet them (it’s true for both women and men).
  2. DON’T hand anyone your sweaty or greasy hand. If necessary, casually dry or clean off your hands on the side of your pants.
  3. DO stand up. If you’re sitting down, get up to shake hands. It’s a sign of respect and puts you on the same level as the other person.
  4. DON’T give a “limp fish” handshake. And don’t shake from your wrist. It’s weird and says “I’m a pushover.” That’s NOT what you want (and that’s why it’s one of the biggest mistakes, says strategy consultant Bernard Marr over on LinkedIn.)
  5. DO give a firm grip. You want to to be firm but not overpowering. But what if the other person gives you a limp fish? A clever tip is to just give it a gentle squeeze. It should let the other person know to grip more firmly.
  6. DON’T overdo it, though… Try not to crush people’s hands! It comes off as a lame power move (or people might just wonder if you’re actually trying to hurt them lol).
  7. DO respect authority and age. Proper etiquette says that the person in the higher position of authority or age should be the one to initiate a handshake. For example, the interviewer at a job interview, a senior manager in a company meeting, father-in-law in private settings, etc.
  8. DON’T use two hands. In business, it’s best to use just one hand. Usually your right. The two-handed shake is reserved for politicians. Don’t “cup” or touch the other person’s shaking hand with your free hand, either. It’s just… awkward… when you do it to people you don’t know well.
  9. DO be aware of your other hand. Most importantly, keep it visible. So, don’t put your other hand in your pocket. Just keep it relaxed at the side of your body. (Side note: In a more personal setting, the rules about shaking with two hands, touching the shoulder, etc. can be different. But only if you know people well.)
  10. DON’T leave people hanging. When you extend your hand ALWAYS follow through. Unless you want to prank someone, of course… (which, yes, is hilarious):
  11. Handshake fail

  12. DO make your handshake last about 2-5 seconds. Follow the lead of the other person if they’re your superior (interviewer, boss, the Queen of England, etc.). With that said, most people prefer shorter handshakes so…
  13. DON’T keep shaking. For goodness’ sake. 3 shakes. MAX!
  14. DO move your hand up and down. That’s the proper motion. A handshake is NOT back and forth or side to side… it’s just slightly up and down.
  15. DON’T shake from the shoulder. Lahle Wolfe makes another good point about the “shaking” part of a handshake: Just use your forearm and shake from your elbow, not your shoulder.
  16. DO wait for the right moment. Ideally, not when they’re in the middle of a conversation… or you might be the one left hanging. Wait for the right moment, approach from the side, and then extend your hand when you’re in front of them.
  17. DON’T just pinch someone’s fingers. This comes off as half-hearted and disinterested. Give people your whole hand.
  18. DO smile. A handshake is a gesture of respect, sympathy, and appreciation. A sincere smile should go along with that. It shows you’re happy to be where you are.
  19. DON’T look away. Eye-contact is important during a handshake. If you avoid looking at someone when you shake their hands they’ll think a) you’re not confident or b) you don’t think the other person deserves a proper handshake.
  20. DO say their name. Greet the person first to get their attention and then offer your hand. It’s a smart idea to repeat the person’s name. Say something like, “It’s great to meet you, Derek.” It will help you remember the name later on. (Like, when you shake their hand to say goodbye 😉
  21. DON’t “hold hands.” Your handshake should end before the verbal introduction or saying-goodbye ends. Otherwise, you’re just, well, holding hands. Kinda weird lol. So, keep talking while you shake hands.

There you have it.

With these 20 do’s and don’ts you’re guaranteed to avoid any awkwardness and appear confident whenever you shake hands.

BTW you should shake hands before any important meeting.

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6 comments Leave a comment
Addy Brown

A handshake should be assertive, but not jarring to the other person. If you shake from your shoulder, using your entire arm, you can knock people off balance (or dislocate their arm). Shake from your elbow in a smooth, up and down motion.

Will

My grandfather sat me down for about an hour to show me how to shake hands properly when I was about 10 or 12 years old.

He covered everything you said here including the limp fish. He also described something he called the “ring-crusher”. Cathy alludes to it in her comment about men “pinching the fingers” when they shake a woman’s hand. He said this kind of man would “squeeze early” so that he gripped your fingers rather than your palm. He called it the “ring-crusher” because if you have a ring on that hand it can really hurt if you are getting squeezed like that.

Much like Cathy’s comment, my grandfather told me men did this (somewhat pathetically) in order to demonstrate power and dominance. Like Cathy suggested, he advised me to preemptively move in quickly so that the web between my thumb and index finger struck his. I only encountered that a few times before I mastered this technique — what Cathy called “giving the full hand”.

In the mid-80s I worked in an office that was almost all women and for the first time had to adjust all this for a co-ed workplace. Back then, most women seemed to give a variation of the limp-fish handshake which I always characterized as the Queen of England “public greet” — basically taking my hand in their fingertips. Back then, I had a few awkward moments back then when I “gave my full hand” and really startled those women. I haven’t encountered the “public greet” very often in recent years. I still do encounter it from both men and women now and then — but much less often than the limp-fish.

I took a course in paralinguistics back in university (basically non-verbal communication) and they expanded this out thinking out into posture and positioning, conversation flow, interruptions and interjections. I was hooked as soon as they started showing us video of office interactions with the sound off and asked us to describe the power dynamic between the folks in the video. Fascinating stuff!

I can tell you that during my whole working career, I have been able to tell if I had landed a job or a sale based on the closing handshake combined with eye contact, posture etc. during those closing moments of a meeting. I have never been wrong.

Cathy

I do have one addition which mostly pertains to women. In the list it mentions “pinching the fingers.” This is something men will tend to do to women. It’s like the move to kiss her hand without the kiss. Anyway it’s weird and awkward in a business setting and shows that the man does not look at the woman as equal. A trick for this move, is indeed to use your other hand to cup the shaker’s hand and slide your own hand into the full handshake. Not forcefully, but just enough to make it a full handshake.

Sumaiya

Brilliant work as always! 🙌🏽 Keep the good work up!

Michaela

Really good article, Derek.
When I shake hands with someone who does not look at me,
I do not let go of his/her hand until they look at me.
I am wary of people who place their index finger on my wrist.
I perceive such action as attempt to control.
Thank you!

Dave

Thanks for posting Derek. Now i know the mistakes that I’ve made in the past. I’m gonna be doing better this time.

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