Handshakes 101

Lately, we have witnessed a number of extremely poor handshakes by some very high-profile people.  As someone who thinks a lot about handshakes I find this very disconcerting. So, I’m launching a “Handshakes 101” lesson plan in all of my classes. The lesson plan is broken down into the following sections: When You Should Shake Hands and Handshake Anatomy, Do’s, Don’ts and Tips. And, please note that this lesson plan is designed to prepare my students for a professional handshake in the United States.


You should shake hands with another person during a job interview, when greeting a guest at an event you are hosting, when greeting a host at an event they are hosting, when saying goodbye, and whenever someone extends their hand to you.


When you want to shake another person’s hand, stand up, walk over, and give them a verbal greeting like “Hello, nice to meet you.” Once you have made eye contact with them, smile and extend your right hand. Make sure you do not get too close. It is best to keep a three to four foot buffer between yourself and the other person. And, when it comes to your left hand, keep it out of your pocket and unclenched. The thumb of your right hand should be extended upwards and your remaining fingers should be pressed together. Once the other person extends their hand, grab the middle of their hand so that the web of your thumb (between your thumb and index finger) touches the web of their thumb. Curl your fingers completely around their hand so that your index finger and thumb are pointing at each other on the back side of their hand. Grip their hand firmly but not too hard. A good handshake lasts for three to five pumps and concludes with a simultaneous release. 


1. Be first. When meeting someone there can be a bit of confusion as to whether or not you will be shaking hands. You can avoid the confusion by being the first person to extend your hand.

2. Be second. Depending on the context, sometimes it is best to be second. For example, when you are meeting a person in a position of higher authority, you should wait and let them initiate the handshake.

3. Test your grip strength (I test my students’ grip strength with an electronic hand dynometer). 

4. Work on your grip strength (I have Captains of Crush grippers on hand to give them an exercise plan). 

5. Calibrate your grip strength. Be aware of the person whose hand you are shaking. Are they older or younger? Is their hand in any way damaged?  You should adjust your grip strength accordingly. 

6. Stand up to shake someone’s hand unless you are sitting at a crowded table and it is too awkward to get up.

7. Keep your hands clean and dry. 


1. Don’t do these low self-esteem handshake moves:

  • Yank the other person into your personal space.
  • Squeeze too hard.
  • Make the other person stretch their arm to shake your hand.
  • Use your handshake to guide the other person into a different direction.
  • Twist the other person’s hand so that your hand can be on top.

2. Don’t do these handshakes: the hand hug, queen’s finger tips, dead fish, lobster, finger vice, and bone crusher.

3. No one likes to be left hanging with an extended right hand and an unreciprocated handshake. So, don’t approach the person whose hand you want to shake from the side. You should use a greeting such as “Nice to meet you” as a way to grab their attention and don’t extend your hand until you have made eye contact with them. Finally, if they are engrossed in a conversation with another person just wait for an opportunity to greet them.

4. When shaking hands, don’t use your left hand to touch the other person’s right arm, wrist or elbow. Don’t use your left hand to cup their right hand. These extracurriculars are reserved for personal relationships and politicians.

5. Don’t stick out your index finger when shaking someone’s hand. I have experienced handshakes in which my exchange partner lengthens their index finger as if attempting to take my pulse. Not sure what this is all about. But, it’s not right. If you do this, you should stop. Just stop it.


1. If you have damp hands and know you will be shaking hands, keep your right hand unclenched and outside of your pocket at all times. And, before shaking someone’s hand, give your right hand a quick wipe on your pants or jacket before extending it.

2. If someone extends their right hand to you and your hands are damp after washing them in the restroom, give your right hand a quick wipe on your pant leg or jacket. You can also inform them of your forthcoming damp handshake with a “Sorry, I just washed my hands.”

3. If you are sick offer up the fist bump. 

4. If your right hand is cold, carry around a hot cup of coffee or tea to warm it up.

5. Different cultures have different customs. Learn and abide by them before entering into cultures and communities that are not your own. Learn more here.

6. If a person extends a prosthetic hand, shake it. If a person extends a hook, shake it. If a person does not have a right hand or prosthetic and extends their arm where it ends, shake it. If they extend their left hand, shake it with your left hand. Learn more here.    

7. If you participate in a bad handshake or believe that you have had a bad performance, ask for another try. Say “Let’s try that again.” More than likely, they will want a re-do as well. 

8. A handshake should last for only four to six seconds.

Shaking hands sounds like a simple thing to do. It isn’t. But, at the end of the day, the key to a good handshake is about being fully present for the person whose hand you are shaking. Four to six seconds of being present for each other. We can give that to each other.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn

PS If you are a mentor to a young person and they give you a bad handshake, take them aside and gently instruct them in Handshakes 101.