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Fear of Mingling

How to Shake Hands in Two Easy Steps

By Bull Garlington

If you hate shaking hands at work or anywhere else, I have good news. You’ll still hate it at the end of this article, but it will be easier.

You probably shake hands 4,000 times a day — or at least it seems like you do. And you never get it right, and it’s driving you crazy. Handshakes are ruining your life!

It’s OK, I Got You on This ‘How to Shake Hands’ Thing

As a certified boomer, shaking hands is second nature to me. I do it all the time. But that doesn’t mean I never screw it up. I do. Even with people I know! I went to shake a guy’s hand last week, a guy I’ve known for years, shook his hand a million times, and something went weird. We ended up with the outside of our hands just sliding along each other’s skin like psychopaths. It happens.

There are a million ways a handshake can go wrong. Sometimes, it’s on you, and sometimes, it’s on them. But there’s just one way to get it right — it’s super easy. I’ll tell you how in two easy steps below, but first:

All the Worst Handshakes and How to Handle Them

How to Shake Hands With a Dead Fish

WHAT IT IS. A limp handshake is everyone’s worst handshaking nightmare. You reach out, take their hand, and suddenly you’re supporting their finger bones like their hand just died on the end of their arm. Shaking hands with someone who’s shake is very, very light is definitely weird. It’s always unexpected, and you never know what to do.

WHAT TO DO. Relax. Even if you went hard and you’re about to crush their phalanges in your iron-like grip. Just chill. Loosen your grip. Lighten your touch. Because this isn’t on you. This is on them. It’s their style, their choice, their strange petition to be remembered for having a handshake like a wet rag.

How to Shake Hands With a Pro Wrestler

WHAT IT IS. A grip that can shatter a brick. This handshake is always delivered by some hyper-muscled Jethronian boomer who is too loud and is 90% teeth. It hurts. It’s ridiculous. There’s no reason for it.

WHAT TO DO. Relax. Get it over with. They think a strong handshake says something about their character. It does, but not what they think. they think it says winner, but it really says douchenozzle.

How to Shake Hands With Your Date’s Dad

WHAT IT IS. A strong grip, not painful, but solid. Aggressive with unwavering eye contact. This is a test and you will never, ever pass because the test isn’t about your handshake. The test is about his role as protector and provider. That’s his baby you’re about to take to the prom, and he needs to make sure you know he knows where you are and what you’re doing.

WHAT TO DO. Return the same pressure (if you can). Maintain eye contact. When they let go — you hold your grip for one millisecond longer. Because you’re the captain now.

How to Shake Hands With a Slider

WHAT IT IS. A strange and unusual grip wherein they kind of slide their hand into yours.

WHAT TO DO. Nobody knows. You could run away, god knows you’ll want to. But the best thing to do is just cinch up a little tighter if they seem to slide past some heretofore unknown threshold of no-way-buddy. Stop ’em in their tracks. Then let go.

How to Shake Hands With a Two-Hand Handshaker

WHAT IT IS. They grab your hand with their free hand mid-shake. This is a gesture of sincerity. This is a grandpa grip, a preacher grip. It means they care. Unless it’s false, in which case it’s meant to make you think they care.

WHAT TO DO: Put your hand over theirs. Sincerely.

How to Shake Hands With the Overshaker

WHAT IT IS. They shake your hand like a paint mixer.

WHAT TO DO. Hold on. They won’t stop. They can’t stop. It’s baked into their DNA. You might, if you like to be entertained, try to outshake them, but you risk causing a localized class 4 earthquake.

How to Shake Hands With a Holder

WHAT IT IS. The worst moment of your life. They will hold onto your hand for the entire conversation. They will hold your hand on the way to their office. They will take you home and hold your hand while they eat dinner and watch the game. Your hand is their hand now.

WHAT TO DO. Sneeze. Or act like you’re about to. They’ll let go like you have the plague. Now run away.

How to Shake Hands With a Bro

WHAT IT IS. An overly familiar, excessively intimate combination of a regular handshake that morphs into that thumb-forward grapple where they pull you close and then slap you on the back.

WHAT TO DO. Fire them. Good lord, man, this isn’t Coachella. We’re not at the beach. This is an office, sir!

But if you’re going to bro …

How to Shake Hands With an Awkward Shaker

WHAT IT IS. They have even worse anxiety than you and end up with their hand up your sleeve.

WHAT TO DO. Laugh about it. Slap them on the shoulder or something boomeresque and chuckle and forget it ever happened.

Bonus Tip: How to Shake Hands With a European

WHAT IT IS. Not limp. Not strong. Firm. And here’s the important part — there is often a very subtle nod. Not the American “I see you in the hallway and acknowledge your presence” lift of the chin. This is a slight nod down and sometimes a little to the side.

WHAT TO DO. Give it back. Return the firm handshake with a firm handshake, nod, and then release.

How to Shake Hands in Two Easy Steps

Step 1: Stick out your (dry) hand.

Stand up to shake hands if you are seated (no matter your gender).

  • Hold your hand forward with the thumb up and your fingers in a line. You’ve seen it. You know what I mean.

Step 2: Do whatever they do.

  • When they grip your hand, simply grip back. Match their grip pressure.
  • If they nod, you nod.
  • If they overshake, you overshake.
  • If they touch your elbow, common in Latin countries, you touch theirs.

That’s it. Well, sure, you could be in trouble if they decide to mirror you. In that case:

  • Aim for a medium to firm grip — not a squeeze, just a grip
  • Maintain eye contact (unless you are doing the nod thing)
  • Release after three shakes (no more)
  • Take about a half step back

And smile.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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Categories: Fear of Mingling, Law Firm Associates, Networking for Lawyers, You At Work
Originally published June 25, 2024
Last updated June 26, 2024
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BULL Garlington Bull Garlington

Analog Attorney columnist Bull Garlington is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He is the author of the books “Fat in Paris,” “The Full English,” “Death by Children” and “The Beat Cop’s Guide.” He prefers South American literature, classic jazz, Partagas 1945s, a decent Laphroaig, and makes a mean chicken and andouille gumbo. Follow him @bull_garlington.

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