The Art of Shaking Hands for the Safety Specialist

by Bob Lapidus, CSP(Retired), CSMS

You may think an article on handshaking is a bit corny and irrelevant to real life as a safety specialist, but that is not so.  The art of a good handshake is critical in the world we live in.

The handshake is the last personal touch in the workplace.  We used to be able to pat someone on the back or give someone a West Texas hug where we would come up to someone on their side and put our arm around their other shoulder.  We were letting them know we cared for them without being intrusive.  Even those simple touches are now gone.  What remains is the handshake.

We shake hands with someone else as a greeting, while parting ways, due to friendship, as congratulations, in agreement or simply to show we care.

There may be times when shaking hands might be inappropriate, but normally shaking hands is fitting.  Yes, there are certain cultures where handshaking is not done or only done by members of the same gender, but here in the United States, when it comes to business, we mainly shake hands with everyone.

Here are some questions and answers relating to the techniques involved in a good handshake:


1. Question:  How firm is just right?
Answer:  Match the other person’s firmness, being careful as you do so.  Some people have overly firm handshakes.  You will never be able to match it and would not want to try since you might sustain a hand sprain (the author actually did).  There are also people with very weak or limp handshakes.  Your grip has to gently match their grip which might be almost nothing.
2. Question:  How long is just right?
Answer:  About two to three seconds.  Shorter is almost a drop of the hand.  Longer and you start wondering where this relationship is going.  Yes, there are times when a longer handshake is appropriate such as with a good friend or a condolence, but normally two to three seconds should do it.  Try it with a friend.  Shake hands and at the same time count one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.  What do you think?  Too short?  Too long?  Just right?
3. Question:  Do you have to shake the other person’s hand and arm up and down?
Answer:  The answer is No.  Simply put your hand in their hand (web to web) and either hold or gently go up an inch and down an inch (a gentle shake).  Exaggerated arm pumping is inappropriate.
4. Question:  When do you shake with one hand?  When do you shake with two hands?
Answer:  One hand is the usual means of shaking hands, especially in business.  Two hands may be used when shaking hands with someone you know well, a good friend or family member.  Two hands are also often used when giving a condolence.  Two hands in business is like a too long handshake.  You might start wondering what the other person has in mind.
5. Question:  Is eye contact important?
Answer:  Absolutely!  Shake hands and maintain eye contact.
6. Question:  How to handle sweaty hands?
Answer:  Always carry a handkerchief or paper towel with you.  If you know you are going to have to shake someone’s hands, wipe your right hand on it to get rid of the extra moisture.
7. Question:  How many times do you shake hands as you go your separate ways?
Answers:  This one is kind of funny.  There is no right or wrong answer.  It’s just what life tends to be.  If you have had a good conversation with someone, you often will first shake hands at the end of the discussion.  Then as you say your final good byes, you shake a second time.  And if you continue to talk just a little bit more, you might have a third handshake as you finally turn to go.  Check that one out too.


The last touch in business is the handshake.  You need to do it right.

The art of good handshaking should be taught to everyone at the earliest possible age.  Even a four-year old can learn how to give a firm, two to three second handshake.  It will give the child self-confidence.

People in the workplace need to have a good handshake.  If they don’t, teach them.  It’s never too late.


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For More Information:

Go to www.safetycenter.org for more information about Safety Center’s Safety Management Specialist Certificate.

After completing this nine-day program, graduates may take the exam to achieve the Certified Safety Management Specialist (CSMS) designation. Recipients of the CSMS receive a beautiful plaque and become part of an elite group of safety specialists who have achieved this recognition.  Once this certification is attained, successful candidates keep it for the rest of their lives without any additional requirements or fees.