The Winning Voice

Best in class communication techniques from Michael Kelly

How to shake hands

How good is your handshake? In Western cultures, in business environments, the handshake is the only regular, physical contact you’ll have with another person. So it makes sense to have a good one. You no doubt have heard that you should have a good handshake because it makes an important, first impression.  But what constitutes a good handshake?

Here are my recommendations for a good handshake: 1. When greeting someone always face them, and make and hold eye contact while you shake their hand. 2. Extend your hand readily when greeting someone. 3. Keep your hand relaxed while you extend into, and grasp their whole hand. 4. Firm your grip, palm to palm and make about two, short, up and down, pumps. 5. Smoothly release your hand from the shake.

Let me elaborate on the above points. Regarding Point One, make sure that you hold eye contact for one to two seconds. That is, it shouldn’t be just a passing glance.

Regarding Point Two, by taking the lead and readily extending your hand you’ll be perceived as confident. Less confident people hold back and often wait until the other person extends a hand. When you see two, confident people greeting each other, you’ll often observe a simultaneous extending of hands.

Regarding Point Three, less confident people tense their hand at the start of the shake. This tensing coveys a nervousness/tension in the person. Make sure to extend your hand into the web between the thumb and index finger of the person’s hand.

Regarding Point Four, make your shake firm, but not too firm and hold that firmness throughout the shake. Keep your palm pressed to the other person’s palm. That is, don’t just grip the edges of the hand. In general, two pumps is a good baseline. However, you may have more or bigger pumps if, for example, the person is a good friend, or you are a more enthusiastic type of person. Use your judgment here.

Regarding Point Five, make an easy and smooth release from the shake rather than a quick pull-away.

You can ‘overthink’ your handshake – and in the moment of shaking be too focussed and studied about it. Don’t do that. It’s better to keep your handshake in perspective and realize at times, there will be ‘mis-shaking’. Practice your shake in safe situations with friends.

The practice might feel unnatural and awkward. You might need many, repeated attempts to groove the handshake. Just keep a ‘lightened up’ attitude about your practice, and if necessary aim to make small improvements over time.

A point worth mentioning for men shaking hands with women is this. With women, men should adjust down a notch the firmness of their shake. But don’t adjust it down too much (ie. the limp shake). The shake still has to have a level of firmness.

The ‘how to apply’ for this post: Over the next seven days, observe and reflect on how you and others ‘meet and greet’ and shake hands, and what impressions are left because of certain handshakes.

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