A good first impression starts with a good handshake. But what makes a professional handshake good—or not? It’s often said that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. In business especially, that impression typically begins with a handshake.

A good first impression starts with a good handshake.

But what makes a professional handshake good—or not?

It’s often said that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. In business especially, that impression typically begins with a handshake.

A common greeting across the world, a handshake oftentimes signifies the hopeful beginning of a positive relationship between two individuals or entities.

First depicted in ninth century B.C., a handshake has long been an activity used to convey goodwill and trust. But what is its relevance in regard to massage therapy specifically?

Professional Handshakes and the Massage Therapist

“This is actually a very relevant topic,” says Edward Leonard, DC, FIAMA, and board certified chiropractor at Florida Wellness Medical Group. The reason Leonard feels this way is because the interactions that people have with integrative care providers are typically more physical than those experienced with other medical professionals, like primary care physicians.

“With chiropractors or massage therapists, the level of connection is completely different,” says Leonard.

“We are in tune with the [client] on a different level,” he added. “The personal relationships that we build are because we have to get right in there, comfort them, and get physical” This creates closer treatment sessions, he said.

Therefore, the main question is: what type of professional handshake is best when it comes to showcasing your skills and expertise as a massage therapist, helping you to create a solid impression from the very first meeting?

To find the answer to this question, we’ve reached out to a nationally known etiquette expert and a few health care providers.

The importance of a good handshake

“As humans, we draw a number of conclusions about others in the first few moments we meet,” says Jodi RR Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “Within five to seven seconds, others have made decisions about us.”

Smith has been offering etiquette advice since the mid-80s and has appeared on TV shows including the CBS Early Show, Good Morning America and the Today show, and she’s had input to print publications such as Real Simple and Redbook. Books she’s authored include The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners and From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Man.

“Since massage is an intimate interaction, the quick establishment of trust is necessary,” says Smith.

Research has confirmed this in regard to health care especially, as trust has been deemed to be a “critical factor influencing a variety of important therapeutic processes including patient acceptance of therapeutic recommendations, adherence to recommendations, satisfaction with recommendations, satisfaction with medical care, symptom improvement and patient disenrollment.”

In short, trust equals greater client compliance and satisfaction. But what does a professional handshake of this caliber look like?

“The best handshake for a [massage therapist] is one that instills confidence in the giver,” says Smith. Furthermore, this type of handshake consists of:

  • The webbing of your hand touching the webbing of theirs;
  • Your fingers curled;
  • The application of pressure, which Smith defines as “firm, but not too much”;
  • Two or three shakes;
  • And then a release of the other person’s hand.

Hug it Out

If for some reason this type of handshake doesn’t feel natural or appealing to you, another option is what Smith calls the handshake hug.

What is a handshake hug?

“This is the standard handshake [just described], with the left hand on top of the client’s hand,” says Smith. “This handshake hug works because it is increasing skin-to-skin contact and is a cue that increased contact will follow.”

This handshake may also be preferred if you’re the type of person who tends to use more physical contact naturally.

For instance, if you often touch the arm of someone you’re speaking with, using the handshake hug may seem more in line with your personality.

It may also feel more normal with a client that you’ve had long-term. It may feel a bit more personal to them since their hand is cupped in both of yours, making it a slightly more intimate welcome than if you’d just met.

Like Looking in a Mirror

Award-winning cosmetic tattoo artist and beautician Chelsea Valentino takes a slightly different approach. “When meeting a massage client, I mirror what they do,” says Valentino.

This technique is called mirroring and the reason it works is because “it allows people to feel comfortable with you because they see a little of them in you,” says Valentino. “This instantly builds rapport and trust with your client.”

How does mirroring work?

“If they squeeze my hand, I squeeze theirs too,” says Valentino. “If they give me a sloppy handshake, they get one back. And if they lean in for a shoulder touch, than so do I.”

Basically, you give the same type of professional handshake that the other person gives you.

Your Professional Handshake and Referrals

Another factor to consider is how your handshake can potentially affect referrals from other health care providers as, ultimately, it may determine what type of clients they send your way.

“When meeting with massage therapists to find someone to work with, it can be hard to determine what type of patient they would benefit the most,” says Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS, EMR, owner of Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.

“While it may seem superficial, I have noticed that I will judge the therapist based partially off their handshake,” Tauberg says.

How does their handshake impact his referrals?

“A massage therapist with a hardy shake is much more likely to get my patients that need deep tissue work,” says Tauberg. “Similarly, I am more likely to send some of my more sensitive patients to a massage therapist with a softer handshake.”

When thinking of your handshake specifically, what type of referrals might it bring your way? Is it reflective of the type of services you offer? If not, how could you change it to better reflect the massage services you provide most?

Shake It

Though it may seem like a minor point to focus on, if your handshake has the ability to influence your client’s decisions regarding his or her health regimen or impact the type of referrals you get from other health care providers, it’s one that is worthy of your time.

Therefore, you may want to practice your handshake with those around you until it elicits the response you want and becomes second nature. That way, the message you send out into the world will be the one that you intended to send.

About the Author

Christina DeBusk is a freelance writer dedicated to providing readers relevant, research-backed content related to health and wellness, personal development, safety, and small business ownership.

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