Everything you need to know about a proper handshake

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It might seem silly to draw nuance from common-place greetings, but in an increasingly competitive job market, a good handshake is essential.

A handshake is the first predictor of employee-supervisor rapport. Poor execution is not only telling of the initiator’s temperament, but it also yields adverse effects for the recipient.

A recent study published in the Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal revealed that haptic interactions lasting more than three seconds concurrently convey authority on behalf of the giver while invoking a sense of panic in the receiver.

“Handshakes are a particularly important greeting and can have long-lasting consequences for the relationships that we form,” Dr. Emese Nagy,  the psychologist who helmed the new study, explained to The Telegraph. “There has been evidence to suggest that many behaviors, such as hugs, fall within a window of approximately three seconds and this study has confirmed that handshakes that occur in this time frame feel more natural to those who participate in the greeting.”

Whether for a job interview between strangers, a business meeting between colleagues or even a first date, here are the fundamental elements required of a proper handshake.

The mechanics

President of Katen Consulting, Laura Katen assesses a competent handshake by the presence of five chief characteristics:

“Your web must connect to someone else’s web to give a complete handshake. Curl your fingers around and then squeeze. Introduce yourself then let go. The two words you want to remember are firm and brief.”

Below are some of the more popular ways to fail the metrics indexed above.

The Limp fish refers to a handshake with insufficient pressure. This most readily implies either weakness or a general nervous state.

The Bone crusher handshake defines one with an excessively tight grip. Often meant to signal authority, but more likely results in discomfort for the receiver while advertising an aggressive lack of tact exercised by the initiator.

The Two Finger shake is somewhere in-between an aggressive and a passive flub. If done intentionally it breeches professionalism and if done as a result of anxiety the receiver is likely to perceive it as much. More than anything however it just looks odd; setting an unnecessarily awkward tone.

The impact of these three variations can be attenuated by other important communication tactics; eye-contact, interaction length, an awareness of personal space and facial animations. Every one of these additions warrants consideration—especially for those on the job hunt.

“If you don’t know what message your handshake transmits, ask to shake a friend’s hand and give you feedback, explains leading career development expert, Vicky Oliver.

“There is an etiquette to executing the ideal shake. If you are seated, be sure to rise. Make eye contact as you walk toward the hiring manager. When you are two feet away, lock eyes briefly and extend your right hand to his or her right. Clasp his or her hand for two seconds. Squeeze once. Flash a smile. And don’t forget to say something friendly, such as “Thank you for meeting with me today. I really appreciate the chance to learn more about XYZ company.”

If you are being introduced or meeting someone for the first time in a professional context wait until they are done speaking before you offer your hand for a shake and keep your dormant hand at your side. It’s the little details that make formalities standout.

Strength versus dominance

The art of kinesics always rises to the forefront during the election season. Irrespective of where you fall on the political spectrum, there’s plenty to be learned from history’s uniquely talented campaigners.

In this arena, there is isn’t anything more revealing about the age-old exchange then its purported origin. Many historians believe that the Babylonian kings of yore would lock hands with the statues of gods, that they might bestow them with conviction and strength. In ancient Greece, dexiosis was a way for parties to signal peace, as the presented right hand was clearly not holding  a weapon.

Thomas Jefferson was the first president to elevate the handshake to a token of diplomacy. Before negotiations or a potentially fraught discourse, the founding father would make a point to shake hands with guests in an effort to stress his good intentions.

Ironically, this staple has since inspired a legacy of controversy. From Ed Koch’s defiant refusal back in 1963 to President Trump’s perceived slight against house speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this year.

The personality of these events remains the same in the civil sphere. To a stranger who you wish to endear yourself too, haptic symmetry goes a long way. So much so in fact, even the decision to forgo a physical greeting carries ensuing implications.

“It’s strange but undeniable: even in this age of ceaseless, high-pitched discourse, a handshake—or the lack thereof—speaks volumes,” reports commentator Cara Giamo. “There are a lot of ways for a handshake, or a non-handshake, to go wrong. But when both people choose to stay away from the gesture, it’s not really a snub—more a mutual decision.”

Kate Palmer, an associate director of advisory at HR consultancy Peninsula, recently predicted a looming interest among employers and employees alike in banning all physical contact (handshakes included) in American firms to prevent potential instances of misconduct.

According to a follow-up survey conducted by TotalJobs, two in three employees would actually be okay with this change.

“Whether that’s going too far or not is a question I would pose because it’s contextual. Does shaking someone’s hand go too far? They may just say ‘no contact at all’ because there’s no grey area,” Palmer said in a press statement.

Excluding specific policies that ban handshakes outright, being mindful of form appears to be the best way to reduce uncomfortable interactions; although it doesn’t always come down to degrees of formality. Simply put, Palmer recommends employees act sensibly without crossing the line.

To female colleagues occupying male-dominant industries, a gesture tailored against ambivalence is one geared toward mutual respect and the intention of professionalism. To employers seeking top tier talent, an adequately firm grip reflects seriousness and prudence. Ultimately a proper handshake is one that doesn’t mistake  dominance for strength.

You want your body language to communicate gratitude, confidence, and humility.