The Art of the Mighty Handshake

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Last updated on February 17th, 2024 at 08:50 pm

As a favour to my friend Li, I’m putting together a blog post on a skill that’s ESSENTIAL when you’re meeting someone for the first time—the handshake. It fits in well with the Life Skills series I’ve been working on, and also with what I think I’ll call Manners Mondays after a suggestion from a friend! It’s no secret that one’s first impression will often leave an indelible mark on the people they meet. I often hear my parents recount tales from their childhoods about the first time they met so-and-so or the time they met whoever and they did such and such. You only get one shot at a first impression, so you may as well do it right! So how to handshake? Let’s start with some examples of basic rules to keep in mind:

Shake firmly

The floppy hand is the folly of many a would-be enchanteur. If your approach is with the limpest of wrists, it will lead to a shake that is less than stellar. Grasp your fellow shaker’s hand with a little bit of strength to your grip, and you’ve got the first principle of good shaking down!

Do NOT have sweaty hands

This is just gross. If your hand is sweaty, DO NOT SHAKE. This is probably the cardinal sin of handshaking! Keep your hands clean and dry before even attempting to go into shake mode. If not, you will only be embarrassing yourself and disgusting your fellow shaker! Think about it—they’re meeting you for the first time, so there’s likely a VERY HIGH CHANCE that they have NO IDEA where your hand’s been! Just please—don’t do it.

Maintain eye contact!

Your handshake motion should be automatic. After glancing down momentarily to ensure that you’re actually grasping their hand, you shouldn’t have to look down again. At this point, it should be all about maintaining rapport, and I think that this will be very difficult to pull off if you’re averting their gaze. Plus, it’s just polite!

Do NOT crush the hand of your fellow shaker!

Know when to let go! This isn’t the Titanic and you don’t need to cling for dear life to ensure your survival! A brief amount of contact, and then you’re good! I mean this in the most serious of ways—you’ve got to let go of the other person’s hand sometime. The sooner the better! I’d estimate that the optimal handshake doesn’t last longer than a second.

Tone it down a little

Over-enthusiasm can be the folly of us all; you’re going for a firm up-and-down motion; you’re not trying to tear your fellow shaker’s poor arm off!

One hand is just fine!

I’ll admit to never really having understood the two-handed shake. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing somewhere. Perhaps it’s a display of fondness and affection. But oftentimes here, it’s generally unnecessary. You really only need to shake with one hand. And what will your other hand be doing while the right one is shaking? Hopefully nothing… I don’t think there’s anything good that it could do in a handshaking scenario!

I think that’s a good start.

But wait! There’s more!

Funnily enough, today I was at The Art of Marketing, and in Guy Kawasaki‘s presentation, he mentioned that the University of Manchester did a study on how to have the perfect handshake and it looks like I’m not all that far off!

From the report, here are the highlights:
The formula for the perfect handshake is as follows:

PH = √ (e2 + ve2)(d2) + (cg + dr)2 + π{(4<s>2)(4<p>2)}2 + (vi + t + te)2 + {(4<c>2 )(4<du>2)}2


  • (e) is eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) 5;
  • (ve) is verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) 5;
  • (d) is Duchenne smile—smiling in eyes and mouth, plus symmetry on both sides of face, and slower offset (1=totally non-Duchenne smile (false smile); 5=totally Duchenne) 5;
  • (cg) completeness of grip (1=very incomplete; 5=full) 5;
  • (dr) is dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) 4;
  • (s) is strength (1= weak; 5=strong) 3;
  • (p) is position of hand (1=back towards own body; 5=other person’s bodily zone) 3;
  • (vi) is vigour (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) 3;
  • (t) is temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) 3;
  • (te) is texture of hands (5=mid; 1=too rough/too smooth) 3;
  • (c) is control (1=low; 5=high) 3;
  • (du) is duration (1= brief; 5=long) 3.

The mathematical formula has been developed for car brand Chevrolet as part of a handshake training guide for its staff to prepare them ahead of the launch of the new 5 Year Promise offer, which aims to offer peace of mind and reassurance to its customers.



  1. Sweaty palms (38 per cent say it is their top turn off)
  2. Loose grip / limp wrist (35 per cent)
  3. Gripping too hard (7 per cent)
  4. Not making eye contact (5 per cent)
  5. Shaking too vigorously (4 per cent)
  6. Shaking for too long (4 per cent)
  7. Standing too close (2 per cent)
  8. Shaking with the left hand (2 per cent)
  9. Not shaking for long enough (1 per cent)
  10. Hot hands (1 per cent)

*Other (1 per cent)

Who knew?

Again, there’s a ton of information there if you’re interested — the report also covers gender and regional differences, and five of the most famous handshakes in history.

So next time you meet someone for the first time, remember this: the first impression you leave may also be your last, so always keep these handy tips in mind!


The second logo for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad



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