How to Deliver the Perfect Business Handshake

August 24, 2016

Shaking hands has been a staple of human interaction since at least 500 B.C., with the Ancient Greeks. Historians believe it originated as a sign of peace, serving as proof that neither person was holding a weapon.

Twenty-five centuries later, the handshake remains the go-to greeting throughout most of the world, particularly in business. And a handshake today is as important as ever, with research showing a strong handshake leads to more deals closed, more meaningful conversations and even increases a job applicant’s chances of getting hired.

And yet, many of us are doing this:

So how do you avoid that? How do you execute the perfect business handshake every time?

Well, in her course Body Language for Leaders, body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman outlined the seven keys to the perfect business handshake. Follow them, and you’ll likely make a better impression with everyone you meet and form stronger business relationships.

Or, at the very least, you’ll avoid this:

The seven keys are:

1.    Stand up and ensure your right hand is free.

You should always stand when being introduced to someone and try to keep your right hand free, so you can easily shake hands. This makes the person feel welcome, whereas sitting while meeting suggests apathy, Goman said.

2.    Square off to the person and then offer your hand sideways.

Fully squaring off to a person – meaning, standing directly in front of them – makes you appear more confident. Then, when extending your hand to shake, do not extend it with the palm facing up – it makes you look submissive.

Conversely, if you extend your palm down or you twist your hand down when shaking hands, it sends the message that you feel superior, Goman said. Instead, just extend it sideways and keep it that way while shaking hands.

3.    Make eye contact and smile when shaking hands.

When you are shaking someone’s hand, look directly into their eyes and smile. The reason is, if you smile at someone, they’ll instinctively smile back. That return smile will make the person instinctively feel happier and more comfortable, Goman said.

4.    You want the web of your hand to touch the web of the other person’s hand.

We’ve all seen hilarious videos of handshakes and high-fives gone bad, where people essentially “miss” with their palms. To avoid doing that, when shaking hands try to have the web of your hand – i.e. the skin between your thumb and your pointer finger – touch the web of the other person’s hand, Goman said.

That’ll make for a solid handshake. In fact, one study found that salespeople were less likely to close deals if they didn't get that proper “web-to-web” contact when shaking hands with a prospect, as the prospect tended to feel more uncomfortable, Goman said.

5.    Shake hands firmly – especially if you are a female.

The firm handshake has been the staple of men everywhere since before any of us were born. Goman stressed that it is just as important for women to have a firm handshake as well.

The reason is any person – man or woman – who has a firm handshake is automatically judged to be more confident and competent, Goman said.

6.    Start talking to the person before you let go of their hand.

Before you release your hand from a handshake, you should begin talking to the person, Goman said. For example, say something like, “it’s great to meet you” or “I’m happy to be here”, as it’ll strengthen the connection between the two of you.

Additionally, if you say the person’s name – "it’s great meeting you, Joe” – your touch will be associated with that pleasant feeling we all get at the sound of our name. And you will be more memorable as a result.

7.    Keep your eyes up throughout the entire handshake, and even a second after.

Finally, keep your eyes up throughout the entire handshake, and even a step after releasing hands, Goman said. If you look down before this, it is a sign of submission, she said.

How do I remember all this?

Goman advised against trying to implement all seven of these steps immediately. Instead, she suggested adding one or two at a time, as you slowly get more comfortable at shaking hands.

To practice, Goman encourages people to practice with friends or family. That little bit of work in mastering the most basic and ubiquitous welcoming interaction – shaking hands – can go a long way to making a better impression, closing deals and even landing the job of your dreams.

*Image from Amanda Paul, Wikipedia Commons

The following article details just one lesson from Goman’s Lynda class, "Body Language for Leaders." To watch the entire class for free and be incepted with all her body language wisdom, click here.