How to have a great handshake step 1
" The handshake is the most widely recognized greeting gesture in the world."

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said with a smile. And then, I shook his hand. Eeew!

It felt like squeezing a damp washrag. And I don’t mean the nice ones you’ve just soaked in hot water on a bright winter morning. I mean one of those cold, oily, slippery ones you find in industrial basements.

“Yeah, hello,” he mumbled while his glance trailed off somewhere into space. I wondered if he was contemplating the emotional trauma I was going to suffer from the experience of shaking his cold damp oily slippery washrag hand.

Okay, I made that story up and I’m fine (thanks for the concern). But you know, I thought I’d tell you a cautionary tale, because handshakes are what we’ll talk about today! Did you know they’re an integral, incredibly important part of your first impression?

Of course you knew that. And I’m sure you also know that for a handshake to be good, it has to be firm. If I tell you you should pair it with a confident smile and strong eye contact, that’s probably not news to you either.

But you know what? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In all my time socializing with men and women, I learned a lot about putting personality and style into your handshake, and tailoring it to who you’re talking to.

Yes, there’s quite the difference between shaking hands with men and women, and a lot you can do to stand out!

Let’s take a look and see how we can maximize our impression towards the fairer sex as well as our own.

To the Handshake and Beyond.

Okay, before we look into shaking hands with men vs. women and your nonverbal communication surrounding the handshake, let’s cover some of its basics and context first.

As you’ve probably heard, the handshake is “only” one of the greeting gestures practiced around the planet. It is, of course, the most widely recognized and used one, so in parts of the world less subscribed to Western culture, people will still understand and engage in it. However, you’ll do well to acquaint yourself with the customs of any foreign culture you’re about to visit. How do you properly greet people on your trip to Romania?

Try hugging and kissing on the cheek. On “Pocket Cultures“, regional contributor Carmen explains this applies across genders: “women with women, women with men or even men with men, but less frequently – if they are very young or if they are close.”

Sounds too touchy? Then perhaps go to Japan: the customary greeting there is a bow, with no physical contact at all.

Ultimately, when people meet you, they’re not just meeting some random guy. They’re meeting you. And you’re unique. Make them feel it.

Other known greeting gestures include:

  • Cheek kissing
  • Eskimo kissing
  • Fist bump
  • Hand-kissing
  • Hat raising or tipping
  • High-five
  • Hug
  • Pressing noses (no seriously! The Maori in New Zealand do it.)
  • Salute
  • Waving

And then there are the ones with more exotic names, like the beautiful Añjali Mudrā. What is that? Oh, I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s a gesture used throughout Asia and beyond, and as a greeting especially in India: it’s pressing your hands together in front of your chest or face.

Ahhhhhh, you’ll think. Of course!

How to have a great handshake step 2
” There are other types of known greetings around the world”

Greet, Congratulate and More.

So, back to the handshake. It obviously involves a certain amount of touching, but it hits just the right point between distance and closeness to be a warm, friendly gesture. Your Japanese friend may find the hugging and kissing intrusive, but she’ll be cool with the handshake.

The first application that comes to mind when we think of it is, of course, the greeting: an extended hand means “hello, I want to meet you.” But then, when we think for a moment longer, we realize that handshakes are also exchanged in myriad other situations: when we congratulate somebody, close a deal, offer moral support, make an agreement, thank each other or even say goodbye.

For today, I’d like to look at the greeting only, though most of what I’ll say applies to all kinds of situations where handshakes are exchanged. Cool?

How to have a great handshake step 3
” Handshakes are also to express exchanged in myriad other situations and not just a gesture when trying to meet someone”

Pressure and Attitude.

First of all, of course, there’s the amount of pressure you apply to your handshake. It’s a make-or-break criteria, as in, you can either make a good impression or break all the bones in somebody’s hand. Tell you what, technically, it should be a disgust-or-make-or-break criteria, just to account for our soggy friend, Mister McWashrag.

When people say your handshake should be firm, they mean just that: do squeeze your new acquaintance’s hand and shake it for a good moment, say, a second or two. How do you feel about meeting this new person? Hint: regardless of what anybody may have told you ahead of time, this lady or gentleman is a blank slate. For all you know, they could be completely and utterly awesome. Your next best friend! And why not approach them that way?

Yes, even if it’s the horrible tyrant working in accounting that all your colleagues have warned you about. Approach them with excitement and openness, and they’ll tell themselves: “Well, look at that. This guy is really friendly to me! Not like all the other rude people in this place. Cool! I like him!”

While your attitude will come across through your handshake, you’re well advised to sweeten the package with your body language and tone of voice, that is, the rest of your nonverbal communication. Stand up straight and tall (you’ll automatically start feeling taller, too – which translates to more confidence!), smile like you would smile at your good friend, look into their eyes and strike a joyful tone.

Don’t overdo it – you want your energy to be subdued, but for sure all-around positive. There’s no reason here to be down or negative. There never is – you’re interacting with humans, after all! Humans are cool!

How to have a great handshake step 4
” The pressure you apply to your handshake is a make or break criteria”

Gentlemen.

Okay, let’s get those guys out of the way so we can get to the lovely women out there. Shall we?

This is really where the firmness thing counts most. Your extended hand should be at the end of a straight-out arm, and vertical with the palm to the side. The handshake will be palm on palm, with you and your partner making a big hunky manly clump of hands. Hey, you’ve seen it. I’m not telling you anything new here.

Except, here are two things:

First of all, you have two hands. While you do the handshake with one, you can certainly allow yourself to pat the guy on the upper arm with the other hand. It’s an extra subtle bit of physical contact that signals confidence and familiarity and sets you apart just a slight bit, enough to leave an intriguing impression on your new acquaintance.

Secondly, depending on the situation, you can get a bit creative with your handshake. Of course, if it’s a professional introduction, go for the regular handshake. But what if you’re at a party and your best friend is introducing you to the new drummer in his band? Leave a small extra impression by shaking their hand once, then turning it up so your hands switch positions and interlock in an arm-wrestling position. Then use your other hand to pat the back of the guy’s hand before releasing.

Practice with a close friend or your brother to see what I mean.

How to have a great handshake step 5
” Your extended hand should be at the end of a straight-out arm, and vertical with the palm to the side”

Ladies.

Oh, the ladies. In times where we still struggle for gender equality, and have a long way left to go, there are some traditional lovely gestures I think you can nevertheless maintain as a man towards women. A more gentle and graceful handshake is one of them. My favourite kind heralds from my dancing lessons, so if you’ve ever taken them, it may appear familiar to you.

First of all, your hand is now extended with your palm angled, or completely facing up: you invite the woman to put her hand in yours with her fingers in your palm, rather than plant it squarely. Lock them with your thumb and hold for a moment while you calmly state that you’re pleased, delighted or just plain happy to meet her. Only shake slightly, if at all.

Alternately, and this is my preferred way: go for the male handshake, but once you hold her hand, pull yours back a little to have her fingers in your palm, and turn it palm-up.

Again, I have two additional thoughts to share:

First, like above, you have a second hand to do things with. The touch on the arm works just as well for women, but I personally like to put my other hand on hers after I turn our handshake palm-up. In other words, I gently sandwich her hand between mine while I tell her I’m happy to meet her. Again, this is an extra bit few people do and it’s graceful, gentle and friendly.

Secondly: either way, you can allow yourself to bend your arm a little. Strike a more casual, malleable position than you would with a man.

How to have a great handshake step 6
” Some traditional lovely gestures you can nevertheless maintain as a man towards women is a more gentle and graceful handshake”

What to Say.

So all of this is nonverbal, but there’s of course a greeting line that accompanies your handshake and refines the very first impression you’ll give.

The Indians have the beautiful word “Namaste”, which is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul of another. If you do yoga, you’re probably familiar with it. If you’re studying Indian spirituality or have another background in spirituality, like yoga practice, perhaps use it on people in combination with the “Añjali Mudrā” gesture. I have a friend who does it and it’s a nice extension of his personality, but note: it’s also very much in line with it.

For the more ordinary greetings, in all fairness, there’s only so much you can really say when first meeting somebody. It’ll always be some variation of, “nice to meet you,” but here are some of the phrasings I deploy to leave them intrigued and spellbound:

  • It’s a pleasure to meet you.
  • I’m delighted!
  • Enchanted!
  • I’m happy to make your acquaintance.
  • Awesome to meet you, man.

What I’m saying here is, be creative! Language is a beautiful thing and it holds thousands upon thousands of words. So many of them are exotic, unusual and thus intriguing. Find them. Use a synonym dictionary some time. When you meet somebody, assess the situation, decide what’s appropriate.

Take just a little extra step to subtly deviate from the well-trodden, worn-out “nice to meet you”.

How to have a great handshake step 7
” There are nonverbal greeting line that accompanies your handshake and refines the very first impression”

Key Takeaways.

The handshake is the most widely recognized greeting gesture in the world and how you use it will greatly influence the first impression you leave on others. This is your first chance to enchant, and to do it, you need to both have the basics down and get a little creative.

Generally, make your handshake firm, though less so when greeting women. Put some confidence and positivity into it: both will radiate through you and manifest in your handshake. Pad them with your eye contact, a engaging smile, the tone of your voice and your upright and tall posture.

And then, get playful and creative. Depending on the situation, you can add a pat on the upper arm to signal an extra bit of connection, or flip your hand up to finish the buddy handshake in an arm-wrestling position. For women, put your other hand on top of hers while you hold it in your palm.

If you subscribe to another culture in any way, either by ethnically belonging to it or by engaging with it, incorporate its customary greetings into yours. It’s part of your personality, right? So show it.

Ultimately, when people meet you, they’re not just meeting some random guy. They’re meeting you. And you’re unique. Make them feel it.

How do you greet? What are your experiences?