There are hundreds of situations that will require you to introduce, be introduced, and greet other people with a handshake.  In order to have a truly impressive handshake you must understand it’s purpose.  While the exact origin of the handshake is unknown, it is generally accepted in western literature that handshakes were developed as a greeting in order to demonstrate that you were not concealing a weapon in your hand.  The handshake was a gesture of good will toward another person indicating that you meant them no harm.  A modern handshake should similarly convey some of that good will by indicating your openness toward the other person.

Handshakes really come down to two things, timing and technique.  We’ll look at technique first. Your handshake can make a very real impression about your character.  Are you Ivan the KnuckleKrusher, Wussy McWimperson, or Clingy von Neverletyougo?  You are being judged by your handshake, so make sure it’s a good one.


  • Make sure your hand is firm, nobody likes shaking hands with limp overcooked pasta.
  • While firm is good, hand crushing is not.  Nobody is impressed with your hand strength.
  • Hold their hand for 2-3 seconds.  Less will seem like you are uncomfortable and trying to escape, more and they will be uncomfortable and have to try to escape.
  • A few up down shakes will do, you are not trying to inflate a bicycle tire or bring up water from a mile deep well with a hand pump.
  • If you hands are sweaty, wipe them on your pants nonchalantly first.  If you are prone to sweaty hands, keep them out of your pockets in situations where greetings are immanent.
  • If your hands are cold, keep them in your pocket to warm them up.
  • Make sure your hands are clean.  You want them to remember you, not your lunch.

There is your basic technique and for the most part people don’t have too much trouble here.  It is the timing that can cause the greatest embarrassment in the form of an extended, unnoticed hand.  Many people try to avoid giving handshakes because they are afraid of being left hanging.  The most important thing you can do to avoid this is to make sure you have eye contact with the person who’s hand you want to shake prior to extending your hand.


  • Don’t extend your hand until you have the other persons attention.  If they are distracted or in a conversation, just wait instead of interrupting.
  • Handshakes should be face to face, don’t approach from the side with you hand extended because it’s difficult for them to see you.
  • Greet the person audibly first, to ensure you are the focus of their attention.
  • If your hand is in the center first, wait for them to fully arrive so you don’t end up shaking their fingers instead of their hand.
  • If you are approaching their extended hand, extend your hand at a slight angle instead of sliding your fingers past theirs, this will prevent them from gripping too early and getting only fingers.

Knowing how and when and for how long to extend your hand takes some practice, and like driving it’s not just about you.  You have to anticipate the other person and do everything in your power to make sure they know where you and and what you’re doing.  Making eye contact and verbally greeting them goes a long way towards making your handshake a successful event.

Other Considerations

  • Don’t pull them close to you when shaking hands, this violates personal space and can trigger a fight-or-flight response in some people.
  • Don’t overextend your reach, go to them to shake hands
  • Attitude matters, be warm, inviting, friendly, and remember to smile
  • Relax, don’t hold your breath while shaking hands
  • Don’t grab their hand with your other hand, or rub their hand, or pat their back.
  • No awkward handshake/hug combos, either commit to the hug, or the handshake, but not both.
  • Do not shake hands if you are sick.  You do not need to apologize, simply hold your hand up in a stop gesture and say “I’d love to shake your hand, but I’m recovering from a cold and don’t want to risk it.”  The other party will not be offended.

Feminine Considerations

Be mindful of the fairer sex and always be gentle with their hands.  Reduce you hand pressure by 50% or more, even if the woman is engaging in a solid handshake with you.  It is possible to be firm and still gentle.  Always release her hand in a timely manner so she doesn’t have to pull away.  Do NOT rub her hand or comment on it’s features, texture, softness, nail color, or anything else.  The handshake turned into a hand kiss maneuver should only be attempted by the supremely confident gentleman in the rarest of circumstances.  If you have any doubts as to what appropriate circumstances are, then the answer is no, don’t kiss her hand.

Cultural Considerations

Be cognizant of cultural differences in customs, rituals and greetings.  This applies mainly to those who travel frequently, but it is worth noting that not all people shake hands the same way.  Here are some of the many handshake variations found in our very diverse world.

  • In Japan it is normal to shake hands frequently. Sometimes a bow is included or substituted.
  • In Europe you shake hands whenever you meet someone even if you know them well.
  • Russians tend to shake hands frequently but never while wearing gloves.
  • A strong handshake and good grip are appreciated in South Africa.
  • A vigorous, pumping handshake is normal for the Chinese.
  • Men in Arabian cultures encourage a long and limp handshake along with a specific verbal greeting.
  • People in Panama greet each other with eye contact combined with shaking hands.
  • The French always shake hands in business meetings but all other greetings involve kissing the cheeks.
  • In Kuwait shaking hands is only used for male strangers who meet the first time.  Shaking hands with an unrelated female is considered inappropriate.
  • Residents of India and Pakistan shake hands by grasping your hand in both of their hands and holding your hand briefly.

The Perfect Handshake

Researchers an the University of Manchester in northwest England spent some time working on the perfect handshake problem plaguing our world and discovered a formula for the perfect handshake.

PH = v (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + p{(4<s>2)(4<p>2)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(4<c>2 )(4<du>2)}2

I won’t get into the details here, but will leave it as an exercise for the mathematically inclined to analyze.  Or, if you like pictures, Chevrolet turned the formula into a fantastic info graphic. Click on the image to view it in high resolution. It includes an explanation of the formula.

Finally, like anything in life, practice makes permanent.  Ask a brother, sister, friend, co-worker, parent, or somebody else you are comfortable with to practice with you for a few minutes and provide feedback.  Now go make a good impression with an impressive gentlemanly handshake.