Shaking hands as a ritual got itself back into the news recently with media comments on the meeting between French president Macron and US President Trump. More of a mini wrestle than a formal handshake, it raised the perils and pitfalls of what politicians often call pressing the flesh.
When you think about it, shaking hands is a pretty bizarre behaviour. It’s something ingrained in us from an early time in our lives. While many see it as a formal greeting, others believe they can tell a lot by a person’s handshake, and that’s probably the main reason people worry out it.
A good handshake can show confidence and strength. A bad one might portray you as weak, overzealous or uncertain. If you’re walking into an interview or want to impress the new in-laws, you may want to follow some of our top tips for getting it right first time.
Handshake Etiquette for Beginners
If you get nervous or begin to perspire when the temperature gets barely above zero, you may well have a problem with sweaty palms. This is not necessarily a sign of weakness or nerves but you should make sure you wipe your hand before you engage in the shake. A quick pat on the material of your trousers or jacket will make all the difference, even if you must delay reaching out.
You should also adhere to the Goldilocks rule of hand shaking. That means not being too firm but certainly not being limp either. If you’re not used to shaking hands this can be difficult to get right. A lot often depends on the quality of the shake that you’re getting back, of course. The worst thing you can do is squeeze someone’s hand so tight that it makes them think you’re a little over aggressive.
There are some who suggest that the person in seniority is the one who should initiate any handshake. This used to be true in the past but is less important nowadays. Try not to be indecisive. If you put out your hand out, don’t suddenly withdraw it because you think you’ve made a mistake.
Eye contact is important in all aspects of life but especially business. Always look someone in the eye when you shake their hand. Throw in a sincere smile and you can’t go far wrong.
Don’t shake too long. Generally, if you go for a Trump/Macron style extended hand shake will certainly cause a few raised eyebrows. A couple of seconds is usually the right length of time. Beyond that things become a little awkward unless you know someone very well.
The usual style is to shake with the right hand, gently up and down rather than side to side. One thing you also need to be aware of is what you are doing with your free hand. Normally it should be at your side and you should refrain from touching the arm or shoulder of the other person if you are meeting them for the first time.
The key to having a great handshake is not to be too threatened by it or the tradition behind it. Yes, you might be at an important event or meeting the boss for the first time but you should try to be relaxed and at ease. Get that right and everything should follow smoothly.