Today’s business handshake is a gauge of confidence, trust, sophistication and mood. Historically, a handshake showed that both people were unarmed and had cordial intentions.

Follow these tips from Fran Scarborough of Vision Alliance Network to keep the upper hand.

  • Always extend your hand first as a gesture of wanting to bond with the other person.
  • When you shake hands, make sure the flesh of your hand between your thumb and index finger meets the same flesh of the other person. No gaps allowed.
  • Grasp the other person’s hand with a good grip. Mirror the pressure the other person is using.
  • It’s OK to be a bit firmer with your grip, but never squeeze the other person’s hand too hard since this can make the other person dislike you at first, thinking you are too aggressive. Never offer a limp, “dead fish” handshake. It tells the person you are meeting that you are insecure, nervous and indecisive.
  • If someone gives you a “fishy” handshake – soft, limp, maybe just offering you a few fingers, you need to respect this. Don’t force another person to shake hands the way you think they should.
  • Hold the handshake for two to three seconds. If you pump your hand up once or twice, it tends to convey sincerity.
  • Make eye contact, smile and talk to the person as you shake hands.

FYI: a two-handed handshake is not for a first meeting. It signals affection and should be reserved for friends and intimates.

Women in Management
Need to Respect Others’ “Space”

A handshake is the only circumstance under which it is professionally acceptable to enter a stranger’s “intimate space” (physically within 1.5 feet). No one will feel you are violating their space if, after shaking hands, you move out of his or her “personal space” (up to 4 feet) and into their “social space” (over 4 feet). You can tell when a person feels you’ve violated their intimate or personal space if they back away from you after you shake hands. Be the first one to take a step or two back.

Sidebar: These tips apply to business conduct in United States. Respectful handshaking and personal space observance vary widely among different cultures.

A Few Final Observations

If your new job requires you to travel, attend a lot of client meetings or trade shows - where you will shake more hands than you thought existed in the whole world - a good business handshake will become second nature to you. The good news is that after a while, you become familiar enough with same the people that your greetings will become less formal, requiring a business handshake less frequently.

Practice shaking hands with friends and family members – that is if you can get them to be serious about it. If not, at least you’ll all have some great laughs!