A perfect formula for a successful handshake

This morning we aired a piece on the power of the handshake, a ritual of business culture that can make or break a future associate's impression of you. Luckily there's no longer a need to risk doing it wrong: British scientists have exacted the science of performing a successful handshake. And luckily for us, MMR Hosts Bill Radke and Steve Chiotakis are very good at shaking hands (most of the reason for their longstanding careers in radio).

To execute a proper shake, you'll need the right amounts of key elements, including:

Eye contact

A genuine, proportional smile and appropriate verbal greeting:

And as far as hands go, you'll need the right strength of grip, temperature, texture and vigor:

Ultimately, the formula for the perfect handshake looks like this:

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

Perfect! And so you can understand why it's perfect, here's a key to the equation, including proper levels of each factor on a 1-5 scale:

(e): eye contact (1=none; 5=direct) -- 5
(ve): verbal greeting (1=totally inappropriate; 5=totally appropriate) -- 5
(d): 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): dryness of hand (1=damp; 5=dry) -- 4
(s): strength (1= weak; 5=strong) -- 3
(p): position of hand(1=back towards own body; 5=other person's bodily zone) -- 3
(vi): vigor (1=too low/too high; 5=mid) -- 3
(t): temperature of hands (1=too cold/too hot; 5=mid) -- 3
(te): texture of hands (1=too rough/too smooth; 5=mid) -- 3
(c): control (1=low; 5=high) -- 3
(du): duration (1= brief; 5=long) -- 3

If you're looking for a less formal greeting, there are plenty of options available, including:

The fist bump:

The high-five:

The snail:

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Wow....a formula for shaking hands.....this shouldn't be this complicated. I mean really, a firm grip until you finish your sentence....all the other complicated stuff is uncalled for. If someone was to read this and go into an interview I guarantee they would make themselves look ridiculous thinking of this "method".

Posted by CatherJuly 28, 2010 7:24 AM
I think a key factor is missing from this analysis, and that is grip position-- not merely the position of the hand relative to one's own or the partner's body, but relative to the partner's hand. Part of the problem of the "dead-fish" arises from a grip position issue. If you meet at the webs of the thumbs, you can apply optimal firmness. If you end up too far back on the hand, you will be squeezing your partner's knuckles: optimal for a game of "mercy", not for sealing a deal. People who are unaware of appropriate thumb-web protocol try to compensate for over-squeezing the knuckles by applying a weaker grip. The result is an even more unpleasant shake, erring in both grip position and firmness.

Lest readers assume the position issue can be ignored altogether by employing a different greeting gesture such as the high-five, I remind you that there are equally awkward high-five position related issues. My suggestion for this is to observe proper elbow tracking. Since the ultimate coolness factor comes from a no-look high-five (e.g. made in passing in the hallway without direct eye contact), this technique can be employed with one's peripheral vision. Simply track the high-five-ee's elbow to judge a proper position with ample follow through (that way, if the situation warrants extra coolness points, you can move directly into the downward-pivoting low-five follow-up).

These policies are not intended as comprehensive. Please consult the manual for further indications and never engage in vigorous physical activity without the supervision of a physician.

I think you are overlooking cultural factors. Hispanics use a very gentle grip. To use a firm or strong grip when shaking hands with a Hispanic person seems to me (an Anglo) rude and borderline brutal. On the other hand, physical contact when encountering an acquaintance in France is so vital that if hands are full or dirty elbows are bumped (as above) and if that is impractical shoulders are bumped.

In my hospital, we started the elbow bump during the H1N1 epidemic as a way of avoiding shaking hands. It caught on well and is now our fun informal greeting.

Someone should have sent this formula to Keith Devlin, the Math Guy, before publishing it.

Triple pumping's a bit effusive; one motion, given with sincerity and not held longer than the words last, works best at producing memorable comfort.

At the other extreme, however, is a handshake regularly used by upper-echelon females in England.

"The Dead Fish"
Fingers proffered straight but closed tightly, tipped downward by slightly bent wrist, barely pursed lips, faintly arched brows.

Application is slight and of the fingers themselves only, avoiding the palm, with an immediate and very smooth withdrawal, as indeed a fish might slither across your hand in water.

No handshake compendium would be complete without it.

Hats Off to you, NPR, for running this report. I teach Employability Skills and find that 80% of my students have no idea how to shake a hand or why the skill is needed. The handshake sets the very tenor of the interview. So many of our unemployed need to learn this necessary skill.

Okay, good advice. But what do you do when the hands miss? You know, the space between the thumbs and forefinger don't come together resulting in one hand grabbing only fingers. After all, you recommend good eye contact so you're not looking at the other person's hand. Do you disengage and start over or just go ahead and look awkward.
Another question. What do you do when you start to disengage but the other person does not?


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