The Ultimate First Impression: Shaking Hands

Why, as a society, do we feel the need to grab another person’s hand when we see them? Why do we do this when we meet people, and when we thank people, and when we agree with people? It all boils down to showing a sign of respect and goodwill towards the other party.


Back around 1800 BC, the extended hand Egyptian hieroglyphic meant “to give” and shaking hands was said to represent the legend of handing down power from a god to an early ruler.1 Handshakes were also found in Ancient Greece to mean that the two parties agreed they were equals and felt comfortable enough not to bring weapons in the other’s presence.2 Flash forward to the Middle Ages where the handshake was similarly used to prove that you didn’t have any concealed weapons in your hands, the shaking meant to dislodge any hidden weapons up your sleeves.1

In more recent history, you could say that the handshake is one of the most iconic gestures when it comes to business, politics, and relationships. We shake when we meet someone, when we leave someone, when we thank someone, when we agree, and when we make a deal. A simple handshake can represent the merge of Fortune 500 companies and bring peace to an entire country.

How To Give a Proper Handshake

It’s amazing what a solid handshake can represent and what it can accomplish. It’s also amazing how detrimental a lousy handshake can be. As easy as it is to give a strong, proper handshake, it’s just as easy to mess one up, so keep the following seven tips in mind next time you are shaking someone’s hand.

  1. Know when to give a hand shake. You’ll have to make a judgement call in the moment, but typically you’ll want to shake hands when you meet someone, leave someone, thank someone, etc. To prevent being rude, you should also shake someone’s hand when they initiate the gesture.
  2. Stand up. If you’re already standing you have nothing to worry about, but if you’re seated, stand up! Make the effort to stand up and show the other person that you respect them. Unless you have a reason to stay seated, it could come across as being very rude to not stand during a handshake.
  3. Look into their eyes. This goes for more than just handshakes, but you should be looking into the other person’s eyes when shaking their hands. If you’re too subconscious about your handshake, you might have the urge to look at your hands to make sure you’re doing it right, but don’t.
  4. Keep your sweat to yourself. Some people have sweaty palms and this can be brought on by nervousness, which is commonly present before handshakes (think interviews or meeting your in-laws). No sweat (pun intended), just wipe your hand on your pant leg to dry it off before shaking hands. If they see you do this, they might find it strange, but not as strange as the wet handshake alternative. Note: do not wipe your hand on your pants after a handshake. This could be very offensive if the other person sees you do this.
  5. Maintain a firm, but not excessively firm, grip. When it comes to to firmness in a handshake, you want to be in the middle of the spectrum, not at the extremes. Too soft and they’ll get the impression that you’re weak or not confident. Crush their hand and they’ll think you’re either trying to hurt them or overcompensating for something.
  6. Keep it simple and brief. Sometimes it’s not necessary to actual shake someones hand, just the initial locking of hands is sufficient. If you find that shaking is necessary, just a couple of vertical pumps up and down will do it. One, two, three and done. The longer the handshake, the more awkward it will be. Also, the vertical part is key, you’re not sawing anything so keep your elbow stationary and your hands should move a few inches up, then back down.
  7. Don’t forget about your other hand. It is customary to shake with you’re right hand, no matter if you are right-handed or left-handed. So, what do you do with your other hand? Usually, your left hand will just get out of the way, naturally, but you want to make sure that you’re not putting it into your pocket because this could come accross as defensive or nervous. In some situations, it might be appropriate to reach out with your left hand to touch the other person’s elbow or shoulder, but usually not in a business setting.

These seven tips should set you up nicely for your next handshake. Just remember that you want to come across with confidence and respect and your body will likely do what it needs to do on its own. If you have any doubt about a handshake, just follow the other person’s lead!


  4. Photo courtesy: flazingo_photos

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