Handshakes were first used to check out whether or not the person you were meeting was armed. As time progressed, they began to be used as a ritual of greeting and a way to “seal” a contract or promise. The handshake is also one of the quickest, most effective ways to establish rapport with another person. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you get with a handshake. We shake hands all the time, but how can we ensure a perfect handshake? These guidelines can help you seal the deal and have a great greeting:
Rise, if seated. That rule used to apply only to men; now women should rise as well. If you remain seated when someone is introduced to you, the communication of personal indifference is unmistakable. The only approved exception to rising to shake hands is if you are eating. If that is the case, you can wait to shake hands until after you are done.
Go for the greeting early. If you always extend your hand first, it lets the other person feel more comfortable. He or she knows you want to shake hands and that reduces their uncertainty (which studies show can be more stressful for some people than physical pain).
Walk toward the person with confidence. Keep your head level and your hands at your side. Be sure to keep your hands out of your pockets. Research indicates that many people don’t trust the person with hands in their pockets. Make sure your right hand is free to shake hands. Always shift any purses, briefcases, papers, beverages or cell phones to your left hand before you begin the greeting.
Smile briefly. Don’t overdo it. If you smile too long or too much, you are perceived as submissive. An over-extended smile can create negative impressions such as “overeager,” “easily manipulated” or “not intelligent.”
Make eye contact. There is a substantial amount of research showing that good eye contact increases feelings of trust. Don’t stare, but don’t look at your shoes. Making eye contact as you approach an individual lets the person know you want to interact.
Face the person heart-to-heart. When you stand at an angle and don’t face the person squarely, you are sending the symbolic message that you are not being straight and open.
Check for clammy hands. If you have a problem with sweaty hands, don’t forget to wipe them on your handkerchief or tissue before you shake hands. At social functions, carry an iced drink in your left hand, so your right will not be cold and damp when a handshake is called for.
Strike out your right hand and arm across your body to their right. The forcefulness and confidence of the move lets the other person know you not only want to shake hands, you look forward to it. Make sure the arm goes fully outward as an arm held closely to the body can indicate timidity and lack of confidence.
Get a good grip. Make sure your thumb is out and the rest of your fingers are fully flat and rest together. Then, here is a trick – scoop in. Tilt your fingers down and scoop up into the other person’s hand so your first point of contact is the web where your thumb meets your forefinger. Then, make sure your palm makes full contact with theirs. The scoop ensures you a full, confident handshake every time.
Make palm-to-palm contact. Open palms symbolically show a desire to be open and honest in your interactions. Not giving a person contact with your palm in a handshake is read subliminally as a lack of openness and honesty. It’s why many hate a wimpy handshake. It can make the other person nervous, and they wonder what you are hiding.
Check your pressure. Once full contact is made the pressure should be equal or at the most, slightly more than the pressure you are given. Never grip the other person’s hand in a contest of macho handshaking to see who can hold the hardest or longest. You want to have a firm handshake, but the rule is to match the pressure or add no more than two steps of pressure.
A good handshake should be accompanied by an “eyebrow flash,” raising up of the eyebrows for less than one second, and a slight smile. It sends a message that I acknowledge you, and I like you.
For more tips, visit remember to be gentler.
Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional and body language expert, is the author of SNAP! Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma. For more body language insights visit her website, PattiWood.net.