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The 8+1 Rules of Handshake Etiquette

Shaking hands is a social ritual that people learn from a very early age. It involves two individuals grasping each other’s like hand and shaking it up and down for a few seconds. It is an indispensable element of any introduction but we use it in a variety of settings: when we greet someone or say farewell, when we congratulate or offer condolences and in any other situation where we feel some sort of physical contact is required but we are not prepared to initiate something as intimate as a hug or kiss. We don’t really know when handshakes became a part of daily interactions but they are depicted in ancient Greek art so we can safely say they are a staple of human civilization.

Although we can probably all manage a half-decent handshake, this will not suffice for a gentleman who knows that manners are just as important as appearances and making a good first impression is just as much about a successful handshake as it is about a stylish 3 piece suit. So here are some tips to practice on your next handshake.

How does a modern gentleman shake hands?

1. There’s a time and place
It’s rather pointless extending your hand for a proper greeting when the other party is distracted or rushing off. Engagement is crucial so ensure the timing is right before making the gesture.

2. Where to start
In business settings, whoever is hierarchically senior should initiate the handshake, e.g. during a job interview, the recruiting manager should offer a handshake to the candidate. In social interactions, allow older people and women to take the initiative, e.g. when meeting your father-in-law for the first time, wait for him to extend his hand.

3. Personal space
During a handshake, people should face each other so make sure you stand up if you are seated. However, maintain a reasonable distance because getting too close could be perceived as overbearing or unnecessarily intimate.

4. Which hand
Always offer your right hand for a handshake, unless there is an obvious reason why you should use your left, e.g. if either party’s right hand is injured. Also, if your palm is damp, pat it down as discreetly as possible because no one wants to grab a sweaty hand.

5. Glad to be here?
A handshake indicates that we want to interact with the other person and our whole approach should give the same signal. Take your left hand out of your pocket, maintain eye contact and smile, if appropriate. Introduce yourself, if this is the first time you are meeting someone, or else greet them by their name and say something relevant to the circumstances.

6. Power game
Your fingers should grip the other person’s palm and your handshake should be firm but not bone-crushing. In a business or political context, this entire ritual takes on a symbolic meaning so, unless you want to appear as overpowering or intimidating, do not use your left hand to “cup” the handshake or pat the person’s shoulder.

7. When in Rome
If you read our blog regularly, you know that we always advise to think about cultural context. In Japan people may bow rather than shake hands and in the Arab world you should only initiate handshakes with people of your own gender. Although there may be more tolerance towards foreigners, a gentleman who finds himself in a different part of the world will make an effort to respect the social norms.

8. Perfect ending
A handshake should last no more than a few seconds, 3 according to most etiquette experts. Obviously you are not a kettle and you shouldn’t be on a timer but avoid lingering on unnecessarily. Withdraw your hand and either proceed to a meaningful conversation or part ways.

Bonus tip
This should probably go without saying but one often discovers that common sense is not all that common so do note that, if you are wearing gloves, you should absolutely take them off before a handshake. The whole point of the gesture is human contact and, unless you are on a South Pole expedition in which case handshakes may not be necessary anyway, it will never be unbearably cold.

This blog is part of a wider series on some of the most common pitfalls in a gentleman’s professional life. You may also want to read our blogs on exchanging business cards and making successful introductions. To make sure that you receive our weekly etiquette and style blog directly to your inbox every week, along with offers and our latest collections, do sign up to our newsletter!