Business Talk: Lets shake on it – the mechanics of a good hand shake

The mechanics of your handshake
Anthony Lombardi
October 08, 2019
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Business Talk: Lets shake on it – the mechanics of a good hand shake
Photo: Adobe Stock
In a time where technology, internet, and social media dominate our lives, there is one interpersonal action that still lives on in business: The handshake.

Shaking hands is an age-old action that greets someone, demonstrates respect, and can signify the closing of an agreement. Regardless, the act of the handshake has specific mechanics that people often forget (or do not even know to begin with). It is an act that I use everytime I meet a new patient and often it ends every visit when I thank the patient for coming in. Let's review the mechanics of the handshake.

1. Eye contact

The first step in shaking hands is looking the person in the eyes. This tells them that they are relevant, they have your attention, and they matter. This, believe it or not, requires practice. This is because you need to time your eye contact with the meeting of your right hand.

2. Right-hand interlock

First of all, you always shake hands with your right hand regardless of your hand dominance. The absolute key is making sure the web of your hand between your thumb and index finger meet their web - first. Beating them to the web is very important because if you are unable to do this you run the risk of having them close their hand early and grasp your finger tips. This ruins the handshake and projects an extremely weak handshake on your part. To prevent this meet their web as you make eye contact with them. This takes time so make sure to repeat these mechanics when you practice.

3. Firm grip, pronation/supination

The grip is something that is important. You do not want to crush the persons' hand but you need be firm. As you meet their web, firmly clinch their hand for one second as you are looking them in the eye. The next part depends on what your goal is with respect to the other person. If your goal is to assert your dominance or portray rank over the person, then you will pronate your hand (their hand would supinate). This is known as "having the upper hand". Subconsciously it asserts yourself to them. Conversely, if you would like the other person to feel that they have the upper hand, then you would supinate your hand during the handshake.

4. The left hand

It is so important to use your left hand. JFK used his left hand to cup both right hands as they met. This combined with eye contact demonstrated love and security to the other person. I use this often with patients to re-assure them that they are in the right place. You could also use your left hand to cradle their elbow or grasp their shoulder. This again asserts dominance over your counter-part. You often see this when politicians or world leaders shake hands.

5. The shake

The "shake" itself should not last more than one second and two pumps. In total from grasp, shake, and release, the entire handshake interaction should last 2-3 seconds. During this time its important to repeat the persons name as you are making eye contact (ie: "It's a pleasure meeting you Mr. Jones"). As you can see there are many moving parts to a solid handshake so it is important to practice each step to achieve perfection.

6. Alternatives

In some cultures handshakes are not the norm. So remember when visiting different countries be aware of this and research their customs before extending your hand. Also, there is a growing trend of germa-phobes who refuse to shake hands. One example is comedian Howie Mandel who prefers the "fist-pump". In this case if you extend your hand and someone displays a closed fist - you should change on the fly and meet their fist with a firm "fist-bump". Also some people are trending towards the Navy "forearm clasp" where they embrace one anothers forearms to avoid germ transmission from hand to hand.

Whichever you choose, remember that the handshake is an age-old art that takes practice and says alot about you to other people. So practice and shake my hand next time we meet!


Anthony LOMBARDI, DC, is a private consultant to athletes in the NFL, CFL and NHL, and founder of the Hamilton Back Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic. He teaches his fundamental EXSTORE Assessment System and practice building workshops to various health professionals. For more information, visit www.exstore.ca.

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