North American Business Handshaking

Even if you think you know how to shake hands properly, read on…

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read


Next reach forward with your right hand, keeping your elbow in and slightly flexed. By the way, it’s always the right hand, unless the other person’s right hand is unavailable. This means, when you are networking, keep drinks in your left hand, so that your right is available for shaking. Your hand should open. Your palm will be perpendicular to the floor and your thumb will be pointing upward. Be sure to fully expose the web of your hand—that’s the fleshy part between your index finger and thumb.

It’s critically important that the web of your hand touch the web of the other person’s hand, first, before your fingers wrap around. In fact, this initial web-to-web contact is the key to a successful handshake. Many people think it’s the firmness of the overall grip, but really it’s the tightness of the connection at the webs.

By the way, this is where a good stance can help you out. What happens sometimes is that the other person doesn’t extend his or her hand fully, stopping short. So, to ensure web-to-web contact, you’ll need to close the gap by quickly shifting your body forward.

So, first, focus on good web contact. By the way, it’s OK to briefly glance down if you need to. Then wrap your fingers around the other party’s palm. And finally you squeeze. Researchers suggest that to be perceived as open and extraverted, you need to squeeze firmly. The strength of the grip should be strong enough so that you’re applying and feeling a comfortable pressure, as when you hold a hammer or baseball bat.

When Things Go Wrong

Remember (guys) it isn’t a contest; it’s a greeting. Crushing grips are just overbearing and obnoxious. Limp fish grips are unimpressive. Both women and men make a good impression with a firm handshake. So, it’s important to practice and check your hand pressure with several people to be sure you are communicating confidence and camaraderie.

If your fingers are around the fingers of the other person, something went wrong. In this case, of course, you’ll need to ease up on the squeeze.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.