7 Tips on Proper Handshake Etiquette

Business handshake in glass reflection in office
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Do you ever wonder what to do when you first meet someone? Should you extend your hand or wait for the other person to do so? These are common questions most people have.

It's important to learn the proper way to shake hands because making a good first impression is essential in many social and business situations. A combination of good timing and proper technique will elevate you in the eyes of the person you are shaking hands with.

Shaking a person's hand allows you to establish your friendliness and accessibility, whether you are meeting your neighbors or starting a new job. Practice with friends or family members before you start shaking the hands of strangers. Remember that people often initially judge you by your handshake, so make sure it shows your confidence and pleasant personality.

Occasions you will need to shake hands:

  • Initial introduction
  • Job interview
  • Seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time
  • Greeting guests when you are the host or hostess
  • Greeting a host or hostess when you are the guest
  • Saying goodbye to a friend or business associate
  • Meeting in-laws or future family members
  • Whenever someone else extends his or her hand

Here are some handshake etiquette tips to help you learn how to shake hands the right way.

  • 01 of 07

    Know When to Initiate

    Friends shaking hands
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    The person in a higher position of authority or age should be the first one to extend a hand. For example, if you are interviewing for a job, the interviewer should be the one to take the lead. When meeting future in-laws, the father-in-law should start the handshake.

    If you make a mistake and initiate it, don’t withdraw your hand because that would be rude and might be awkward. Always follow through with a handshake. Smile and continue with the introduction. Don’t apologize.

  • 02 of 07

    Stand and Look the Person in the Eye

    Businessmen shaking hands

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    If you are sitting, rise before extending your hand. This shows respect and puts you on the same level as the other person. Make eye contact and offer a sincere smile to show that you are happy to be where you are.

    Be still and face the other person to prevent giving the impression that you are in a hurry to get away. If you are walking, try to stop, turn, and face the other person, unless it creates an awkward situation.

  • 03 of 07

    Offer a Greeting Before and During

    Friendly people smiling and shaking hands

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    When your palms are damp, you can delay extending your hand if you introduce yourself while blotting your palm on the side of your slacks or skirt. Your greeting should include his or her name and a pleasantry, such as, “It’s so nice to meet you, Ms. Jones.” If you have more nice things to say, include them at this time. Don’t go overboard and gush, or you may make the other person uncomfortable.

    To remember the other person’s name, you might want to say it several times during the conversation: once during the initial handshake, shortly afterward, and again while shaking his or hand before you part ways. This will make a very strong, positive impression because people like knowing you care enough to remember their names.

  • 04 of 07

    Your Handshake Should be Firm but Not Crushing

    Firm handshake
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    You don’t want to offer a limp hand because it gives the impression of weakness. However, this does not mean you should crush the other person’s hand. Be firm but not overpowering. If the other person offers a limp hand, give a gentle squeeze. This can be a cue for him or her to grip more firmly.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    The Handshake Should Last About 2-5 Seconds

    Man smiling as he shake hands

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    Most people prefer shorter handshakes. Be observant and follow the lead of the other person, particularly if he or she is in a superior position to you in business or social position.

    If the other person continues holding onto your hand longer than five seconds, politely withdraw your hand. Maintain eye contact and a pleasant expression afterward to maintain a positive interaction.

    If you're a salesperson, pay attention to a client or prospect's body language when you extend your hand. If she appears uncomfortable, don't be aggressive about shaking her hand.

  • 06 of 07

    Be Aware of Your Other Hand

    Businessmen shaking hands
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    Most people use their right hands unless they have a reason to use the left. Ideally, your left hand should be visible and unclenched. Don’t have your left hand in your pocket because this appears defensive. In most business situations, you shouldn’t use your left hand to touch the other person’s arm or cup his or her hand. However, in a personal setting, you may.

  • 07 of 07

    Shake Hands in an Up-and-Down Motion

    Farmers shaking hands
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    The handshake shouldn’t go back and forth or side to side. Don’t pump the other person’s hand more than three times, or the greeting may become very uncomfortable.

Something Else to Consider

Now that people are more aware of germs, you may find yourself facing a fist rather than an open hand. They're not spoiling for a fight. They're initiating a fist bump instead of shaking hands.

Even if you don't care for the practice, show respect for the other person and do a proper fist bump. It's easy. Just make a fist and make gentle contact with the other person's fist.