Effective Handshakes in the Workplace: a Leader’s Guide

The handshake is one of the most common rituals in the workplace for greeting coworkers, clients or business partners. A person’s handshake is one of their first opportunities to use body language to form a positive professional relationship with someone else. Learning what makes a good handshake in the workplace can help you use body language signals to project strength, leadership and competence to others.

Related: 7 Effective Skills to Help You Become a Better Leader

 

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Elements of an effective handshake

Having a good handshake involves recognizing the perfect combination of different factors that can put others at ease and project confident leadership. To understand whether your handshake is effective, consider these key elements:

 

Dry hands

Before reaching out to shake someone’s hand, make sure that your hands are clean and dry. Air out or wipe down your hands with a handkerchief or paper towel before greeting someone with a handshake. If you are meeting new people, make sure that your right hand is free and dry, since most people tend to shake hands with their dominant hand.

 

Initiative

Initiating the handshake and reaching out first shows confidence and motivation. It is appropriate to initiate a handshake during most greetings in the workplace unless there is a physical barrier to shaking hands. For example, if the other person has their hands full, you should wait for them to free their hands or forego the handshake entirely. Some people also close out meetings and agreements with handshakes as a gesture of goodwill.

 

Body language

Use open and welcoming body language when initiating a handshake to show others that you care about having a positive interaction with them. If you’re sitting down and able to stand, rise from your seat before shaking someone’s hand as a show of respect. Remove your hands from your pockets to project openness, and stand facing the other person, giving them your full attention. Whichever hand you aren’t using for the handshake should be open and relaxed by your side, unless you’re holding something.

 

Perpendicular position

When reaching out your hand, keep it perpendicular to the floor with your thumb facing up. Some people see a hand facing downward as dominant and a hand facing upward as submissive, so it’s best to keep your hand in a neutral position to show that you value the other person as an equal. Keep your hand flat, and grip their hand with your thumb and fingers so that your palms cover each other.

 

Firm grip 

The strength of your grip is usually the most noticeable aspect of a handshake in the workplace. Give the other person’s hand a firm shake with light pressure between your palm and thumb. A firm grip shows that you are interested in the other person and are giving them your full attention. 

 

Good eye contact

While shaking hands, maintain good eye contact, and smile. Looking a person in the eyes while shaking their hand creates an instant connection and shows trustworthiness and confidence. People in leadership roles should model frequent, appropriate eye contact by looking others in the eye when they are interacting.

 

Appropriate timing

After you begin the handshake, pump your hand up and down once or twice, and then release your grip. Your handshake should be just long enough to say hello and greet the other person, usually about five seconds long. If the other person begins to pull away, respond to their signals and let go of their hand. Doing so ensures you maintain the other person’s comfort and demonstrate your respect for their personal boundaries.

 

Benefits of using an effective handshake

Using an effective handshake can put others at ease by projecting confidence and respect. Something as basic as a handshake can be the deciding factor between who decides to do business with you versus one of your competitors. A good handshake can also set the tone for the rest of your interactions and make the other person more receptive to your ideas and interested in forming a connection. Finally, an effective handshake can demonstrate your professionalism as a leader, coworker and business colleague.

Related: Cultivating Positive Workplace Behavior

 

Frequently asked questions about giving strong handshakes

It is important to be aware of how you shake hands and strive to make subtle adjustments to improve your daily business interactions. Here are a few frequently asked questions related to developing a great handshake and using it appropriately at work.

 

How can I improve my handshake?

You can improve your handshake by practicing with friends or family and asking for feedback. Having an outside perspective can be helpful and point out anything you could do better. For example, maybe your grip could be stronger or your eye contact more consistent.

 

What situations do not require a handshake?

Generally when someone offers you their hand for a handshake, accepting the greeting is the most appropriate course of action. When meeting a small group, shake everyone’s hand to create a connection with each person. However, some cultures outside of the United States do not expect handshakes. When traveling to another country, research appropriate business greetings within that culture. 

 

What is two-handed shaking?

Two-handed shaking involves shaking someone’s hand with one hand and then gripping the other side of their hand or arm with another. Some people consider any kind of handshake that uses both hands to be a two-handed shake, such as when you shake someone’s hand with one hand and touch their arm or shoulder with another. When you have a close relationship with someone, a two-handed handshake can indicate friendship and shared goals, so you can use only use two-handed handshakes when working with someone you know well.

 

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