How to conquer the handshake

There’s nothing worse than an awkward handshake. And if you’ve ever been victim to the ‘limp fish’ or the ‘bone crusher’, or even someone who stands too close to you when they shake your hand, you’ll know what we mean.

A handshake is often the first impression that you give to people, and if you haven’t got yours mastered, it’ll be the only thing you’ll be remembered for. So this is how to conquer the handshake.

First things first. Whether you’re introducing yourself to someone for the first time or just greeting a colleague or client, as you start engaging with the other person verbally, make sure you pick your distance. Personal space is important, as well as making sure you’re not standing miles away from the other person that you won’t be able to reach their hand. Just over a metre (three to four feet) is suitable as this will set you up for your handshake.

Once you’ve set up your distance, there should be enough space for both of you to grasp each other’s hands.  And as you begin to start your handshake, extend your right arm but make sure you’re looking where your hands are going to meet. This may sound silly, but if you’re not consciously looking, then you could collide with the other person’s hand or worse, miss completely. And sorry left handers, you’ll need to use your right hand for this or your hands will clash with the other person’s.

Once you’ve looked where your hands are going to meet, it’s important to make sure you get a firm grip. This doesn’t mean crushing their hand, but it also doesn’t mean that you barely touch their hand, but a firm grip will show that you’re confident in yourself and not a first timer.

Once you’ve firmly grasped the other person’s hand, you need to make sure there’s a physical movement that happens. Hence the ‘shake’ in handshake. Similarly to your grip, it’s about finding that median. You don’t want to throw the other persons hand up and down, nor should your hands stay completely still. Moving your hands up and down two or three times is recommended – almost like the ‘industry standard’ amongst professionals.

When you’re focussing on how to shake hands, it’s easy to forget where you’re looking. If you’re looking elsewhere or staring at your hand when you’re physically shaking the other person’s hand, then it can come across as rude. Because if you’re not looking at the person, it will make you look like you’re not interested in engaging with them.

So when you grasp hands with the other person, make sure you look at them, instead of away from them. It’s similar to when you’re in a conversation with someone, if you’re not looking at them, they’ll assume that you have no interest in what they have to say.

Most of the time, you shake hands with another person just after you greet someone or introduce yourself. You don’t want to look like you’re surprised when someone reaches out their hand to shake yours, but if you’re not 100% sure when is appropriate, you can start by following their lead. So as they extend their hand to shake yours, you should too but following suit.

Things to avoid:
  • Sweaty palms – if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this, you’ll know that this can be incredibly uncomfortable for the other person, so make sure your hands are dry – even if that means that you wipe your hands on your trousers before shaking hands with someone – just make it subtle!
  • Standing too close or too far away from the other person – you still need personal space when you shake hands with someone but close enough that you can reach the other person’s hand.
  • Being over or under confident – you don’t want to be on either ends of the spectrum, so avoid crushing their hand and staring too hard, as well as barely grasping their hand and looking away

So there you have it, how to conquer the handshake. No one can expect you to be an expert the first time around, but hey, practice makes perfect!