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A handshake can make or break a first impression. So, we have to get it right.
The problem is these days many people have switched to alternative greetings, such as waves, fist pumps, and friendly nods. Yet, aside from being the expected way of greeting people in many contexts, shaking hands does the important work of preparing your brain to form or strengthen your connection with someone. When you shake hands, it releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, and if the handshake is done correctly, it triggers a series of reactions. If done correctly, your handshake partner is often more open to connection, more trusting, and may even view you as more likeable.
Check out my video to learn the six steps for the perfect handshake:
Want to learn more about the science behind each step? Check out the detailed explanations below:
Keep your hands vertical
Both of your hands should remain straight and vertical throughout the handshake. This puts you and the other person in equal positions of power. If someone flips your hand upward so your inner wrist is exposed, it is a sign they are exerting their dominance over you by putting your hand in a weaker position than theirs.
If you are flipped up, make a mental note that the other person is trying to show that they are in charge. Similarly, never offer your hand with your wrist facing upward, because it shows that you feel you are weak.
Make direct eye contact
Though this isn’t directly part of the handshake, it has a huge impact on its success. Adding eye contact triggers the release of oxytocin with both the contact and mutual gazing. When you make eye contact with someone, you’re literally saying,”I want to connect with you.” Doing this in the first few moments of meeting someone is more important than anything you ever could say in your elevator pitch. It may sound extreme, but when people don’t make eye contact with us when we first meet them, it’s a red flag for our brain that makes us subconsciously suspect they are hiding something from us.
Research shows that eye contact also makes you more persuasive, memorable and likable. This is because it increases the activity in the areas of the brain responsible for positive social interactions, strengthening people’s willingness to listen to you and their desire to see you again.
Pro-tip: Make sure the direction of your eye gaze is appropriate for the situation. Psychologists have discovered that when we make eye contact with people, our gaze shifts based upon how we feel about the person. Most people won’t consciously pick up on how you gaze at them. However, it does play a subconscious role in how people feel when you make eye contact.
Give hand hugs
Determining the appropriate firmness is one of the hardest handshake qualities to gauge. To make it easier to grasp, I like to think of handshakes like hand hugs–you want to be firm enough that you squeeze them, but not so firm that it causes them to tense up. Squeezing too hard can be intimidating and make the other person feel uncomfortable. Likewise, giving a weak handshake, where you just offer your limp fingers, makes you seem insecure and like you don’t want to connect with the person you’re meeting on a deeper level.
If you struggle to gauge if your handshake provides the right level of firmness, practice on a few honest friends and ask them how they feel when they shake your hand.
Avoid wet handshakes
I know that sometimes when you are nervous, you can’t help having sweaty palms. The problem is, on top of feeling gross, sweaty hands are a clear sign that you’re nervous, and that’s never the impression you want to make. Luckily, you can do some things to minimize the moisture. In many settings, it is acceptable to carry handkerchiefs in your pocket. If you’re prone to sweaty palms, wipe your hands on the handkerchief to get rid of any sweat. Another tip is to get a glass of water, wine ,or another cold beverage and wrap it with a napkin. This allows you to dry your hand on it while carrying your drink. If you are unable to hold anything, keep your hand at your side while you approach people so you can rub it against your pants as you lift it to shake hands.
The ideal number of pumps
Another aspect of handshakes that confuses people is how long they should last. Typically, handshakes have one to three pumps. This depends upon how much time you have. If you’re in a rush, one is good, but feel free to go up to three if you’re beginning what will be a longer interaction. If someone goes over three and is holding your hand for too long, you can counteract it by using your other hand to tap theirs. The additional contact is a cue for them to release.
Handshake or a hug?
When you’re meeting with someone who you are friends with, but don’t know well enough to have an established greeting for each other, it can be difficult to tell if they are going in for a handshake or a hug. What I like to do in this situation is, when they approach, put one hand forward and one to the side so you are positioned to do either type of greeting.
If you don’t want to be hugged, put both of your hands out in front of you to block your torso so the other person doesn’t have the opportunity to come in for the hug. Likewise, watch to see if they approach you with their arms open for a hug, or if they just put out a single hand, or even no hand, when greeting you. Hugs release far more of the bonding hormone than handshakes, which creates an intimate feeling. For people who are more reserved, this can make hugging uncomfortable if it is not with people with whom they already have an intimate bond. Watch people’s body language when you approach them so you can greet them as they wish to be greeted.