They say that first impressions count for a lot and this is undoubtedly true. The impression you give of yourself, good or bad, in an initial interaction can persist…sometimes for a life time. One way you can make a great first impression is with a good handshake…but what elements make ‘a good handshake’? And why do we shake hands anyway?
Well..historically, it has been said that the formal handshake originated in ancient Greece, as it’s depicted in artifacts from the 5th Century. It was a sign of peace and a way of showing the person you were meeting that you weren’t carrying weapons.
Regardless of the origin, It has long been seen as symbolic. As a sign of mutual respect and trust. This can be important when you are representing yourself, but is even more so when representing a group. Maybe a company after a big contract…how about a nation when peace could be at stake! Whatever the reason, the evidence seems to support the idea that a good handshake is highly important and influential when it comes to success in social interactions.
For example, a neurological study by Dolcos et al (2012), looked at the importance of body language in social settings, and found that we are more likely to evaluate a situation positively when a good handshake precedes the interaction.
A good handshake has the power to alter how people see you. For example, this study (summarised here) and this one identified how, not only are those with a good, firm handshake more likely to rate themselves positively (as more extraverted and confident, less shy and neurotic), so are those interviewing them.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a self-fulfilling prophecy might be at play here (and this would make a great study!). If you aren’t the most socially confident person, developing a good handshake could be a good start to improve this. For example, knowing the routine when you first meet someone could increase your confidence for the initial interaction. People may, in turn, perceive you as more confident and, therefore, treat you as such, leading to you actually feeling more confident.
So…what are the Ingredients for a Good Handshake?
Making the First Move
To shake hands properly, you need to be standing up. Resist the urge to do this from a sitting position. Standing up conveys respect for the other person, the situation, and just feels far more natural.
You should use the whole hand. Trying to shake hands with the tips of the fingers (sometimes referred to as ‘the lobster claw’) is a definite no.
I’ve found a number of articles regarding the position that you place your hand when you make the first move and how this can be crucial. Palms upwards and this can convey passivity. Going in palm down conveys that you’re trying to dominate the other person or situation. The bottom line is that you should shake with your hand vertical.
Going the Distance
You should also judge your distance wisely. If you try to shake hands from a long distance, it will only convey that you don’t want to get near to the other person, so don’t be shocked if they take it personally. Too close and this can feel a bit intimate. It might be okay when greeting a friend but certainly not advised in a more formal setting.
A good, firm handshake is always better than a limp one…but firm doesn’t mean vice-like, or that it has to become a wrestling match.
The Eyes Have It
Make sure you maintain a degree of eye contact. You obviously don’t want to stare the other person out, but I tend to find it best if you do this with a smile. If you move in for a handshake without eye contact, at best it will convey that you lack of confidence. At worst it might be seen as a sign that you are untrustworthy.
Timing is Everything
When you shake hands, the length of time that you do this for should feel natural, but if you are conscious of this and unsure, then it should take roughly the same time as it does to complete the greeting.
Practice Makes Perfect
As with everything, the more you practice the more natural this will be. If this is something you don’t do very often, it might be worth finding someone who you can practice with. It might sound like an odd thing to do, but you will be glad you did next time you’re summoned by the boss or going for that important job interview.
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References and Further Reading: