First, be aware that not everyone accepts the handshake as a greeting nor does every culture or group do a handshake the same. Western culture values a firm grip, while many Asian countries, especially China, value a less firm handshake and maintaining the handhold for an extended time after the initial greeting (shake).
Note that not all cultures are geographic; some religions prohibit physical contact between men and women such as Islam and Orthodox Judaism. I experienced this recently in New York City, so know the culture, geographic or other, before extending your hand. It’s very awkward for both parties, if you are the only hand extended in mid-air. In these situations, ask a trusted friend or advisor familiar with the culture as to the expected custom or follow the lead of those around you. Often, brief eye contact and a short nod of your head can replace the handshake and acknowledges each other’s presence.
The basic Western handshake is very simple and most often is used as a business greeting especially when meeting someone for the first time.
Here’s how it is done:
- First make sure your palm is dry. In a survey, sweaty palms is the number one “no-no.” Use a light dusting of powder on your palms before walking into the room, or in a pinch lightly brush your palm across your right hip just brushing your open palm on your clothes before extending it…
- As you approach the person, make a slight smile and direct eye contact while you extend your right hand mid-way between you and them. With the right hand extended, thumb up, fingers extended and palm flat completely grasp the other person’s hand meeting palm to palm. Do not cup your palm.
- Right before or as your hands meet use an appropriate verbal statement, such as asking their name. I suggest saving the largest part of your smile until they say their name. When you smile while they are saying their name it nonverbally suggests that you are truly pleased to know them.
- Use a solid grip, but not too firm and of course, take into account the strength of the other person! This isn’t arm-wrestling… there’s no need to crush their hand. And please no light or loose grip – it feels as if you are shaking hands with a corpse.
- Hands are pumped two or three times in a gentle up and down motion, and no more than a few inches up and down. This isn’t pumping an old water-well pump! Then release your grip all at once and with moderate speed, pull your hand back.