professional handshake

How to Shake Hands Professionally: A Step-by-Step Guide

A handshake is a strong form of non-verbal communication which speaks louder than words. We shake hands all the time. Heck, we might even think we are good at it. But do we really know how to shake hands professionally?

Perfecting the professional handshake is essential to making a good first impression. That’s where this step-by-step guide comes in.

But first, what kind of handshake do you have now and what does it say about you?

What does your handshake say about you?

The limp handshake

This is the ‘dead fish’ handshake where no pressure is applied at all. Women are at risk of offering limp handshakes due to the misconception that it is ladylike and gentle.

In the professional world, limp handshakes are seen as a sign that you lack confidence and you’re weak. Show your strength ladies!

The bone-crusher handshake

This is when you are trying to break the other person’s fingers. It indicates that you are an aggressive person or that you’re trying to show you are in power.

The too-long handshake

If you hold on for too long (more than 3-4 seconds) you are giving the impression that you are desperate for something. It can also make the situation awkward when the other person uncomfortably tries to disengage.

The too-short handshake

If your handshake is too short, it gives the impression that you don’t have time for the other person.

The look-away handshake

This is when you shake someone’s hand without making eye contact, which can be very disconcerting. It also shows you are insecure, shy or suspicious.

The top-handed handshake

Instead of holding out your hand in a vertical position, you hold your hand horizontally so that your hand is on top of the other person’s. This handshake is used to show that you are in control of the situation and of the other person.

The politician’s handshake

This is when you place both hands on the other person’s hand when you shake their hand. It signals ‘I really like you’ which is what politicians really want you to believe.

However, it can come across as being artificially friendly when you don’t really know someone and you use this handshake.

The Trump handshake

Yes, Donald Trump has a handshake named after him. If you’ve not been living under a rock, you would have seen the famous Trump handshake where he yanks the other person’s arms then pumps as hard as he can. For a long time.

What does this say about Trump? That he is controlling, insecure and out to prove he is the higher authority.

Is this the handshake you want to use to show your confidence? NO.

The perfect handshake

This is the ‘right way’ to shake someone’s hand and conveys professionalism and confidence. This is the handshake we should all be aiming for.

Now let’s dive into how you can give the perfect professional handshake.

A step-by-step guide to the perfect professional handshake

1. Be handshake ready

If you know you will be shaking hands soon, get your hands ready. Make sure they are clean and if you have sweaty palms, air them out or wipe them down.

2. Begin by verbally introducing yourself

Before extending your hand, introduce yourself. If you start shaking hands first before introducing yourself, you will end up with a very long handshake by the time the both of you are done with introductions.

Shaking hands is not a replacement for an oral introduction. If you only shake hands but don’t greet someone verbally, you may appear aggressive or angry.

3. Initiate a handshake at the right time

Usually, the person in a higher position of authority should be the first one to extend a hand. For example, if you are interviewing for a job, the interviewer should initiate the handshake.

If you made a mistake and initiated a handshake to someone ‘superior’, don’t withdraw it and don’t apologize. Just follow through with the handshake and finish your introduction.

Never leave an extended hand hanging.

4. Stand up while shaking hands

If you are sitting, rise to standing position before extending your hand. It’s a sign of respect for the other person.

5. Face the other person in a front-on position

Position yourself in front of the other person, facing him or her fully. This is the most comfortable position to have the best palm-to-palm contact.

6. Aim for the web of the hand

When you aim for the web of the other person’s hand, it will provide good palm-to-palm contact that allows you to pump their hand firmly.

7. Make good eye contact

Look the other person in the eye as you are shaking hands. Looking anywhere else is just plain shifty.

8. Smile

A sincere smile shows you are a friendly and genuine person. Don’t go overboard by showing too many teeth.

9. Have a firm grip

When you are shaking hands, aim for a firm and consistent grip – not too limp and not too strong either. When possible, match the grip pressure of the other person.

10. Pump their hand up-and-down

Pump the other person’s hand in small up-and-down movements. No sideways or back-and-forth yanking. And definitely no funny business like fist-bumps and tickles.

Shake from the elbow, not from the shoulder.

11. Time the handshake for 3-4 seconds (2-3 pumps)

Don’t linger when shaking hands, keep it short and sweet. Any longer than 3-4 seconds and the handshake becomes awkward.

12. Say their name

Saying the other person’s name while shaking hands show that you are interested in them and it also helps you remember their name later on.

13. Keep your other hand visible

What do you do with your left hand while your right hand is busy handshaking? Your left hand can rest but it should be visible and unclenched.

Politicians like to use their left hand to clutch the other person’s elbow or shoulder but this is not appropriate in professional situations.

When not to shake hands?

While it is commonplace (even expected) for us to shake hands when meeting each other in a professional setting, in some parts of the world, this is not the case.

Always read up on how professionals greet each other in different cultures. If you are really clueless, follow the other person’s lead.

This year, COVID-19 has also changed the handshaking culture and the common greeting now is a wave or a fist-bump.

How do you politely not shake hands?

While COVID-19 gives you a valid excuse not to shake someone’s hand, it can still feel awkward because it has been the norm up until now.

Here are some tips on how to politely not shake hands:

  1. Verbally excuse yourself by saying something like this: “Hi, I’m Tim. It feels weird that we are not supposed to shake hands now. It’s nice to meet you anyway.”
  2. Place your right hand on your chest or in your pocket. This is a good non-verbal way of saying “No, I don’t want to shake hands.”
  3. Stop out of arm’s reach from each other and give a quick wave with your verbal introduction.

Can I shake with my left hand?

A left-handed handshake or ‘Scout handshake’ is how scouts across the world greet each other. It is a sign of trust and friendship.

However, most people shake with their right hand and it is easier, even for left-handers, to reciprocate with their right hand.

To wrap up

There you go, who would have thought a 3-second handshake would involve so much ‘know-how’. Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to give the perfect professional handshake, go forth and practice on everyone you meet.

I can’t help but end with this video of Trump and his famous handshakes. Watch it, you might learn a thing or two.

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