Despite ongoing efforts in positive social environments, we build a first impression of someone new after as little as three seconds, and as much as fifteen seconds, depending on he/she who is passing judgment. One absolutely critical element to your success and landing a proper first impression is mastering the art of the handshake.
There are eight key aspects that need to be simultaneously strung together if you want to leave a lasting, positive impression on someone. Handshakes are more than a simple wave or a “How do you do?”; they’re physical interaction with another human being, someone you’ve never met before, and it speaks volumes about you. We’ve broken down each aspect to the perfect handshake.
1. Eye Contact
Without a doubt, eye contact is the most critical element to a proper handshake. You can perform all other seven aspects of a good handshake on this list, but without the eye contact, it’s all pointless. Eye contact is a form of body language, showing that we’re engaged in what we’re doing, and paying attention. Body language experts say that if we avoid eye contact or quickly look away, that we’re hiding something or being untruthful.
You don’t want to come off as overly conservative or reserved. Meeting people, introducing yourself or being introduced to a potential client or employer requires a fair bit of you being an open book, and you can start it off right with eye contact. It says “I’m alert, I’m listening to what you’re saying, and I’m excited to meet you.”
Breaking eye contact early also shows weakness and a meek nature. You can earn some immediate respect, especially from another gentleman, if you retain eye contact without breaking for any reason. Once the handshake is over and the two of you are either seated or look to another member of your party who is speaking, that eye contact is critical.
2. Keeping Your Hands Dry
Landing that handshake and the nerves that come with it are often the result of knowingly meeting someone new. It makes your hands a bit clammy and does more than simply earning a quick wipe along the pants from the person whom you’ve just shaken hands with. It shows fear, that you’re nervous, and while everybody gets nervous, it gives someone else the upper hand. They know that they’re the more confident one in the encounter, and it could lead to some less-than-desirable behavior on their part.
On top of that, it’s just going to keep your confidence in check. If your hands are in your pockets, make sure your fingers are spread and your palm is resting against the interior fabric. This reduces sweating as it gets absorbed by the material. If your hands sweat no matter what when they’re in your pocket, you can do that little exercise intermittently while they hang by your side. If you hold that stance, you’re going to look like you have to go to the bathroom or you’re really anxious, but flexing a few times to get some air on those crevices of your palms will do wonders.
3. Rise Up Every Time
Let’s say you’re sitting down. Even if a friend is the one you’re meeting (your mates are the perfect handshake practice dummies by the way), make sure you rise when they approach the table or enter range, so you can shake their hand while standing up. There’s a trick to this so your tie doesn’t land in your soup, or some other embarrassing incident occurs.
Don’t half-ass it. Don’t stand up and partially bend over the table. I’ve seen so many guys make a mockery of themselves and look so awkward by rising improperly. Place your left hand over your tie so it doesn’t fall forward, rise up (pushing the chair back with your legs if need be), and stand at full attention with proper posture. Lean in very slightly, and shake hands.
After the one-two, you’ll be able to let go and sit back down. You know, just be sure to remember if you scooted the chair back a bit so you don’t fall down. This is a major sign of respect, and you really want to nail this on the head. It doesn’t matter who you’re meeting, it shows professionalism to everyone.
4. Use a Hand Grip Exerciser
They were huge in the 80’s, and they’re going to be a lifesaver for you. One of the first things that enter a gent’s mind after he breaks away from the handshake is, “Did I have a strong enough grip?” Guys, your grip absolutely matters, so long as you’re not pulling a POTUS. If you can feel your hand bones kind of cave together and a good deal of pressure on your skin just below your thumb, then you’re not doing it right.
Two men shaking hands should be firm, but if your hand is super weak, they’re going to know, and you’ll have that little afterthought rifling around in your head. Avoid it, build some muscle in your hands, and improve your grip all at the same time. Do ten of these exercises per day on each hand, holding the squeeze for three seconds and then releasing. This can be done while on a phone call, at your desk at work, and the whole process quite literally takes about sixty to ninety seconds.
5. Follow the One-Two
The one-two is an unspoken rule but explains just how long a proper handshake should last. Your hands collide, there’s a grip, bit of a squeeze, and that brief smile. One, two, the handshake is over. Anything more than two seconds is a bit awkward. Go ahead, cup your hands together and count to three Mississippi. It’s just a bit too long of a time, isn’t it?
Follow the one-two rule. Lean in, hands meet, a bit of a squeeze, slight up and down motion, all of that takes two seconds. You’ll be in sync with when he or she are going to let go, and it just makes for flawless execution. The first few seconds of meeting someone, that smile and exchange of eye contact, and that perfect handshake are the best way to start a first impression, professional or otherwise.
6. Proper Greeting
When you think of awkward business casual situations, The Office comes to mind. We’re trying to help you avoid pulling a Carrell here, and when you don’t properly greet as you go in for the handshake, it can leave some awkward silence going on. Make eye contact or at least acknowledge the person you’ll b shaking hands with when they’re within a three-second proximity to the table or waiting area. Nothing is more awkward than making eye contact when they have a fifty-foot gap to close, and just staring. It makes the greeting a bit tense and weird.
You’ll rise, you’ll do whatever you need to do to get into the perfect handshake position, and now comes the greeting. Shaking hands and staying silent is a bit odd, so you want to pull out one of these classic quick intros.
“Mr. Jones, pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Ms. Jones, good morning, so nice to see you.”
Basic, a bit tired, but an appropriate and very quick greeting to break the ice, and last throughout the handshake. You’ll speak, shake, sit back down, and everything will start off without a hitch. As we mentioned, just be sure to keep eye contact, and approach our eighth tip to really fortify that pleasant greeting.
7. Don’t Lean in Too Much
We talked about this a little bit before, but we really need to reinforce this fact. Whether you’re rising from a table or closing a gap while standing, don’t lean in too much. Think of your body as a mathematical compass; you shouldn’t lean more than about ten degrees inward, otherwise you’ll practically be bowing (which could be offensive under the right circumstances).
Leaning in too much also leaves you awkwardly looking at their crotch area, or you pull your head back and look like a tall bird that’s standing all weird. You can absolutely have a good handshake without either of you leaning in at all, but in most situations we feel a bit pressured and rushed to shake hands, so we lean in. It’s okay, just don’t overdo it.
8. Briefly Smile
The final tip to get a better handshake going is to give a brief smile. Close-mouthed, top row showing, it doesn’t matter which one you’re more comfortable with, we’re just trying to convey a friendly message. When you go to lean in or introduce yourself, a brief smile that lasts the one-two duration of the handshake sets the tone for your meeting or introduction. This is especially critical for job interviews.
It just gets things going on the right foot. If you were to shake a gent’s hand right now, and you did all these things: you quickly greeted them, you had a firm shake, you didn’t lean in too much, but they’re just a blank expression and not even smiling, it just makes things immediately awkward. You can do everything right, they can do everything right, but this is like pumping the brakes. Showcase friendliness, approachability, and you’ll already be on your way to a fantastic overall first impression.
There’s Power in First Impressions
Nobody wants to sit around the table and hear their father-in-law say, “You know, when I first met you,” and trail off from there. Nail that first impression with a standing ovation, upkeep your confidence, and eventually, you’ll have the natural reaction to give a proper handshake every single time.