How to Give a Better Handshake (And why it’s important)

handshakeThe importance of the handshake is a courtesy that is often overlooked. While this may be a simple gesture, the way in which you do it may drastically change how your patient feels about you and their corresponding satisfaction with your service. In a recent column, Jeffrey Benabio, MD, director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego, enumerates on the importance of the handshake and the small changes you can make to ensure yours conveys the right message.
There’s a simple act you’ve done with all your patients that you’ve probably been doing incorrectly. Yes, that is rather a bold assertion, but I’ll bet no one ever taught you the proper way. It’s only recently, after having done it thousands of times, that I came to realize there is a better way to give a handshake.

Handshakes come both at the critical first moment and at the close of patient interactions. The first helps establish who you are as a doctor and reassures your patient that you’re both capable and trustworthy. At the end of the visit, it seals the agreement wherein they commit to take your advice (or at least try) and you commit to do whatever necessary to help them.

A poorly executed handshake, or worse, none at all, can erode trust or convey a lack of ability on your part. It’s true that handshakes aren’t always appropriate: For certain patients or disease states, they would be unsuitable. For the majority of patient visits, however, they are key. Here are some secrets to a good handshake:

  • As you’ve probably experienced, timing is critical. A handshake requires someone to anticipate your action and to coordinate perfectly with you. When you enter the room, move toward your patient and put your hand forward just as you approach your patient. Too early and you look like an awkward high schooler eager for a Justin Bieber autograph. Too late and you’ll take your patient by surprise. The best position is to have your left foot forward as you reach for their hand. This gives you stability and allows you to convey confidence.
  • As you approach your patient, make eye contact. Just a second or two as you cross the room is perfect. Then glance down at their now outstretched hand and connect web to web. Your arm should be tucked in and move straight toward their hand. Swinging out to come back in is great when you’re getting your new NBA jersey from the basketball commissioner, but not for getting patients comfortable with you.
  • The grip depends on the patient. For most adults, a firm squeeze with two arm pumps is just right. For the hard-charging, testosterone-replacing ex-Marine, you can reciprocate the extra-firm grasp – let him win the grip contest though, that’s what he wants. For the freezing-in-her-gown great grandmother, an extra long hold, sometimes even double handed, is fine, even appreciated.
  • No matter how firm, it is important to convey your enthusiasm and ability to your patient. This is done with a gentle push. As you shake hands, lightly push their arm back into them. This subtle transfer of energy from you to them is a little known tip that will make your handshake much more effective. Never push them off balance or worse, pull them toward you. Your objective is to create trust; making them unsteady will make that impossible.
  • Finally, let go after two pumps. If you feel them holding on, then stay until they release. For the majority of patients, that will be a just a couple seconds.

For patients I’ve never met, I often proffer my hand turned slightly upward for our first handshake. This subtle sign of submission shows I’m open and committed to them. For our closing handshake, I have my hand turned slightly downward so that my hand is slightly over theirs. This conveys that I’m confident in what I’ve said and done and that now I want them to uphold their part in our agreement.

I’ve been using the above technique for a few years now with success. It has helped with my patient satisfaction scores, and importantly, has helped me manage difficult patients for whom trust in our relationship is invaluable.Click here to read the original article from Frontline Medical News

To enumerate on this subject, below are a few handshake tips from Jonathan Steele, professional nurse turned public speaking coach and the voice behind Speechmastery.com. The next time you meet a patient, or have a job interview yourself, these tips may help you convey the message you’re looking for.
How to Handshake Basics:

Palm Vertical to the ground and extending your arm forward as though you were sawing wood with a hand saw. It sends a message of greetings, I am here for you as you for me. We are equals.

Better Tilt your hand slightly so that your palm is pointing to the sky. This subtle body language message is humility and that you are there to help and to serve.

Palm Up I am here to serve you. It can also indicate when first offered, submission or take charge.

Palm Down This is the authoritative position. You are in charge or in authority. You are there to take the lead, to take care of things, to get the job done. However it can also indicate a controlling personality.

Hand in Hand Typically your greeter will offer a hand palm up and before shaking starts the second hand sandwiches yours. Sometimes given to show empathy as with the loss of a loved one.

It is also given when wanting to demonstrate concern or to convey that you’re with a caring individual. It seems to be a favorite of politicians.

It conveys familiarity. Do not use it unless you are close to the individual you do it with, you want to leave a bad impression or you are a politician.Click here to read the entire post from Speechmastery.com