How to Choose the Right Handshake Greeting
What did you think of the last person who greeted you by crushing your hand bones or presenting their limp fingertips? A proper handshake greeting is critical to how people will perceive you—and a bad handshake can leave a long-lasting negative impression. But it’s becoming harder to know the proper greeting for each person you meet!
The good news is, you can learn which people and situations call for a particular handshake greeting, so you can almost always offer the right one.
The Traditional Handshake
You know this one! The traditional handshake is typically reserved for professional or more formal situations. It’s also more common for men to shake hands in non-business situations than it is for women. When in doubt, use the traditional handshake. You may come off a bit more formal or distanced, but it’s better than misreading someone and going for a more familiar greeting before that person is ready.
The Two-Handed Handshake
In this variant of the traditional handshake, one person places their free hand on top of the other person’s shaking hand. This handshake must be used with caution, and never during a first meeting, as it can convey an off-putting sense of dominance or superiority. The two-handed handshake is best used gently to demonstrate sympathy, such as when someone has experienced a loss.
The Bro Hug
Also called the “half-hug” or the “man hug,” this handshake-hug (one hand clasped, the other wrapped in a hug) is popular among male friends as a masculine way to show affection. The bro hug says, “our relationship is closer than a traditional handshake,” and it can be premeditated or evolve spontaneously from a traditional handshake. It’s best used between close male friends, and is appropriate in any setting, usually finished with a pat on the back.
The Fist Bump
Fist bumps aren’t just for young folks anymore, especially during cold and flu season: a fist bump is about five times more hygienic than a traditional handshake. Yes, germophobia played a role in the fist bump’s recent breakthrough into business, although the fist bump is thought to have originated with boxers, whose gloves made it impractical to shake hands before a bout. Just know that unless you’re dealing with a known fist-bumper, many professionals may not expect this greeting, so you will need to telegraph your punch (so to speak). If you’re going for the fist bump, start with words like “up top,” then present a closed fist at chest level that can be seen in the other person’s peripheral vision.
Shaking Hands When One Person Wears a Prosthesis
Whether it is a hook or a high-tech, dexterous replica, if someone extends their prosthetic hand to you in greeting, shake it. Just be careful—prosthetics are expensive, and some may be damaged by an overzealous handshake (see The Bone Crusher, below). If you’re uncomfortable making the first move toward a handshake, let the other person go first; they may extend their prosthesis, their left hand, their arm where it ends (in the case of amputees), or nothing at all. Above all else, avoid commenting on the prosthesis.
Handshake to Avoid: The Bone Crusher
You know this one, too—when someone goes in for the traditional handshake and nearly dislocates your fingers. Authority figures end up using this handshake to show dominance, and unfortunately, women end up using it when “firm handshake” advice goes a step too far.
Handshake to Avoid: The Limp Fish
Nobody wants to shake hands with a fish, and nobody wants to receive a weak and clammy handshake. (Also in this category, “fingers only” handshakes where the hand is pointing down, like it’s expected to be kissed.) Many men think this “delicate” handshake shows respect to women, but women particularly dislike when men offer this too-gentle greeting. These handshakes can occur by accident when people miss connecting the webs of their hands in the shake; if this happens, chuckle and say, “Let’s try that again” to let the other person know that was not your intended handshake.
If you have doubts about the firmness of your handshake, try practicing on yourself or a friend. And if you have sweaty palms, wipe them off before shaking!
Body language really does speak louder than words, so it’s important to make a solid first impression! And the key to a great handshake is to maintain direct eye contact throughout the handshake, ensure a sincere smile, and use your best judgment on which handshake greeting is best for the situation.