The Art of the Handshake

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Have you ever wondered why we shake each other’s hands? It’s customary to do so, and it’s almost a natural inclination. We are practically raised in our society with the art of the handshake.

Ancient texts and ruins show that handshaking dates as far back as the 5th century BCE. Two soldiers are depicted on a funerary stele shaking hands, which scholars believe may have demonstrated a gesture of peace since a hand cannot hold a weapon at the same time it is shaking another hand.

Today, it’s a powerful body language tool, not so much to demonstrate peace as to influence others in social and business circles. It’s a very short ritual to grasp another’s hand and move up and down, but believe it or not, there are rules of etiquette to follow.

Experts agree that a firm handshake is a must. Men’s handshakes have historically been strong since their grip is naturally strong, but often a woman has to plan a firm handshake before the act. Firm handshakes signify strength, while weak handshakes do the opposite. Since a handshake is usually the first encounter with another, it can impact the impressions formed.

Along with being firm, a good handshake is executed with constant eye contact and a friendly demeanor. One shouldn’t shake too much either, only three times up and down. If you’re sick and afraid to spread your pathogens, it isn’t improper to use a nice replacement of a handshake with an apology. Perhaps a fist bump will do or any number of non-contact gestures. Scientists even believe that fist bumping can wipe out flu transmission! Regardless, if you are practicing for a perfect handshake, here are some familiar handshakes you need to know about.

Limp Fingers
When someone extends their fingers instead of their open and outstretched hand, the other person is stuck gripping fingers. This can hurt if one of the shakers has a firm and powerful grip. You should always hold out your full hand.

Hand Crusher
One handshaker has a grip on the other as if they are out to see who has the most power. This is usually a very controlling person.

The Politician
One person reaches out with both hands and takes over the maneuver. This should be used with people who know each other well since personal space is invaded with this handshake. If this person moves his hand on top of the other person’s, this signals he wants to be in charge of the relationship.

The Holder
Since a handshake should be a brief affair, if one handshaker holds on and just won’t let go, it creates an awkward moment for the other person.

Sweaty Shake
Most people have experienced this handshake, where the person’s hand is sweaty yet he holds it out anyway. With dismay, the only choice here is to accept and shake. People have wet hands due to simple nervousness or they may have been holding something wet before reaching out. It’s easy enough to wipe their hands on their clothing, but sometimes they don’t bother, making it extremely unpleasant for the other person.

Hugging Handshake
This awkward move occurs when someone grabs another’s hand to shake but decides to pull them in closer to hug. This can be difficult to deal with, but keeping your arm firm, thus not allowing your body closer, could prevent the hug.

Cool Handshake
Depending on the environment and age of the handshaker, there are various hip and freestyle handshakes such as the back handshake, a hip-hop handshake or those special to the sports world. Some of these handshakes are complex, involving one or two hands, shoulders or simultaneous dancing.

The key to a good handshake is not to leave anything to chance if you are trying to make a good impression every time you meet someone. Some body language professionals recommend being the first to reach out since this exudes confidence and strong interpersonal skills. You can initiate the handshake before getting close to the person, even six feet out. Look the person right in the eye as you prepare to grasp their hand, so there is no mistaking that you want to shake their hand. Seize the moment; don’t rush a handshake. Hold a palm-to-palm grip firmly, but don’t hurt the person. Shake a few times and let go.

The region of the country can affect handshake etiquette as well. People in the northeast, for example, hold on for about five up and down shakes, whereas west coasters casually shake once. Once you get the hang of the culture, use it to your advantage.

The most important takeaway from a good handshake is the statement you make. Hopefully, it was one of confidence that left a positive impression. ■

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