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The 8+1 Rules of Handshake Etiquette

We don’t really know when humans gave their first handshake but this social ritual is depicted in ancient Greek art so we can safely say it’s old and it’s also something 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’s used during introductions as well as in various other settings, e.g. when we greet someone or say farewell, when we congratulate or offer condolences and in any situation where we feel some sort of physical contact is required but we’re not close enough with the other person to hug or kiss.

Although we can probably all manage a half-decent handshake, a gentleman knows that making a good first impression is important. So here are the most important rules of handshake etiquette for you to practice in your next social interaction.

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 initiating the gesture.

2. Where to start
In business, 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 future 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 unnecessarily intimate.

4. Which hand
Always offer your right hand for a handshake, unless there’s an obvious reason why you need to 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 palm.

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 message. Take your left hand out of your pocket, maintain eye contact and smile, if appropriate. Introduce yourself, if this is the first time you’re meeting someone, or greet them by their name.

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 intimidating, don’t 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 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 some 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’re 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, if you’re wearing gloves, you should take them off before a handshake. Unless you are on a South Pole expedition of course.

This blog is part of a series on some of the most common pitfalls in a gentleman’s professional life. You may also want to read our blogs on How To Exchange Business Cards and The Etiquette Tips For Making Successful Introductions.