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Revealed: 5 Secrets of Effective Handshakes

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Firm handshake after a business meeting

How effective is your handshake?

For my birthday, we went to a favorite restaurant for lunch. The Manager, who knows me from his waiter days, extended his hand to offer a congratulatory handshake which I accepted although afterwards I had to make a discreet visit to the Ladies WC to wash my hands. His had been clammy and sticky and a hand sanitizer or napkin would not suffice.

That got me thinking more about handshakes. I remember as a Fifth Grader, I won a book based on a BBC program titled I Want to Know, which contained answers to questions that children ask. One of the questions related to handshakes where the answer was that in olden days, since everyone carried swords, by extending the hand to shake that of the other person; you were offering a gesture of peace.

Not much has changed since then. Handshakes communicate powerful non-verbal greetings when introduced or when saying goodbye, when concluding business meetings or offering congratulations. Even in informal settings handshakes are a gesture of friendliness, acceptance and respect.

How effective is your handshake? Considering that a short handshake can create a link between you and the other person allowing you to connect further, you want to make sure that your handshake etiquette is correct.


5 Ingredients of a perfect Handshake

In my view, in addition to having non-sweaty hands that can give the impression that you are uneasy or uncomfortable, there are 5 key ingredients to a perfect handshake.

First, stand up and step or lean towards the person you are greeting, make eye contact, smile and begin with a voice greeting before extending the arm and hand for the handshake.

Second, make sure you are actually doing a handshake and NOT a finger-shake.

Two hands reaching out to do a finger shake

Finger shake

I’m not kidding, but when I was a young audit intern, the firm I was apprenticed with had an audit client who used to offer an open finger hand for a handshake. The sight was something to be seen – our clasping and open hand with fingers sticking out.

Although as auditors we kept mum, I can assure you we young interns often practiced behind closed doors on how we could do a handshake with the 5 finger client.

The position of the hand should be to keep your fingers together with the thumb up and open. On making contact with the other person’s hand you need match the web of your hand with the person being greeted and then having grasped the hand firmly, give it a little squeeze, pump up and down 2-3 times and then let go. Eye contact and a smile have to be maintained throughout the duration of the handshake.

Thirdly, always use your right hand. Even at networking events, keep your glass or plate in the left hand and extend a clean right hand for the handshake.

Fourthly, make sure that the grip is firm. A limp handshake gives out the message that you are not confident or perhaps not interested in the other person or what they have to offer.

Having said that, remember that there is a difference between a firm handshake and a bone crushing vice grip.

I still remember as a 10 year old, overhearing a conversation between my parents who were about to go to a diplomatic party and were dreading meeting an otherwise delightful diplomat but who crushed bones in a prolonged handshake.

My Mom’s hands were delicate and she often got bruises from the genial diplomat’s handshake greeting. I think kids are often wiser than their parents in some matters as I pointed out that as an Indian Lady, she could demurely offer the salutation of a Namaste with folded hands and still be polite. As for my Dad, well, he had to grin and bear it and try to get his hand out quickly before it got crushed. It worked.

The handshake should be maintained for 3-4 second only. You can always assess the duration depending upon the culture of the other person but too long or too short a handshake can send out the wrong message.

Fifthly, follow the protocol of initiating the handshake. Normally, the person of higher ranking should initiate the handshake. If you are in the same age group as the other person, taking the initiative would convey that you are friendly and confident. When it comes to gender, I was taught that the lady proffered her hand first for a handshake.

A word about culture and business nuances……..

Different cultures can result in unintended faux pas so the best advice I can give is, that when dealing with people of a different cultural background, check on their etiquette before meeting them and also freshen up on your skills of observation to check on facial and body language for cues on whether or not to initiate the handshake.

In a business setting, avoid use only the right hand and avoid the more personal gesture of holding the other person’s hand between both your hands.

An effective handshake should convey your intention towards the other person, irrespective of gender, that you are genuinely interested in getting to know the other person and as in ancient times, your handshake is a gesture of goodwill and respect. A good handshake can help take your conversations further and a skill that you do need to master.

Globe with a handshake indicating respect

How effective is your handshake? Have you ever gotten the wrong impression about another person based on the strength or non-strength of their handshake or any other break from handshake etiquette? Have I missed out anything in my handshake etiquette suggestions? I’d love to read about it in the comments box below.


Written By: Vatsala Shukla

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12 Responses to “Revealed: 5 Secrets of Effective Handshakes”

  1. Maria Coldea says:

    Very interesting! But usually in our country the mens don,t shake the hands of womens.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for visiting The Karmic Ally Coaching Experience blog, Maria. Different cultures have different norms for interaction between the genders and I remember while growing up that Indian women too did not always shake hands with men though that has changed now. In some countries, that is still the norm and that is why it is always a good idea to do a bit of research before interacting in international settings.

  2. When I worked as a career counselor, I had my clients practice handshakes. Some people found if they felt confident with this step, the interview went better.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Hi Roslyn. Thank you for sharing your experience as a career counselor and validating the confident handshake. As a careerist, I often felt the same way when it came to interviews and client meetings. A good handshake both before and after the meeting helps to lay firm foundations for future interactions.

  3. For me, the warmth you feel from the eyes and smile is always the place to begin with someone you don’t know well. When people feel you and your sincerity, the handshake is often the added icing on the “greeting” cake. I am also one who has become more comfortable hugging people I do know as a form of welcome and greeting, as that truly offers us a connection with the other. It is interesting how many people do have sweaty hands and who are uncomfortable with even the most basics of human interactions. This is a great post to offer them some easy to incorporate ideas to help them greet others comfortably and with sincerity!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Beverley. Being sensitive and intuitive I do focus on the eyes and smile while handshaking to determine the sincerity of the handshake. When the smile is accompanied with smiling eyes and a good handshake, I know that the other person is sincere and an effective communicator. There is so much to be learned about body language and etiquette!

  4. Lisa says:

    Great article! When interviewing new employees, I can tell a lot from the hand shake. Are they nervous, i.e a sweaty hand, a weak shaker etc…what I did not know was the person of higher ranking should initiate the hand shake, good info to know. I will certainly hold a strong firm hand shake this weekend as I meet some strong cowboys at the festival I am attending. Great info!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Lisa and a warm welcome to The Karmic Ally Coaching Experience Blog! We learn as we go along. Another tip that I learned from my parents was that the lady offers her hand for the handshake first. Enjoy your day at the festival and wow those cowboys with your awesome handshake!

  5. This is a pet peeve of mine… I am with you, I totally dislike getting that open hand, limp wrist of finger shake.. I mean seriously.. I can’t believe how some folks just don’t get it. It’s like looking people in the eye, why is this hard to do? LOL

    A handshake must be firm, quick but not too quick, a full hand, with the right hand and along with eye contact – all like you said… soooooo true!

    Oh, yea, and nothing like sweaty palms.. I get some people can’t help it… but knowing you will be shaking someone’s hand, discreetly wipe it? Right? Thanks so much, girl I am so with you!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Looks like you have had your fair share of not so nice handshakes, Kristen. 🙂 The sad part is that more often than not, the other person may not be aware of the handshake etiquette and ends up making a faux pas that conveys the wrong message. Quite often, at a networking event, if I have just had an hor d’oevre , I discreetly wipe my hand on the napkin just to make sure that it is not greasy. One can never be cautious enough when it comes to making the right first impression. Thanks for visiting my blog, hope to see you here again soon!

  6. I had to get used to women shaking men’s hands and women making the gesture first. As this was not at all the case in my culture. But when in Rome you do as Romans do, so now it’s really the norm to me 🙂

    Thanks for the great article, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience about adjusting to different cultural norms, Delia. As the world becomes a close knit global village, we often need to adjust our etiquette to ensure that we convey the right message with sincerity and authenticiy.

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