July 30, 2012

Bringing Meaning Back to the Handshake

Life is full of first impressions.  If you mess up the first impression, you could miss out on a lot in life.  Handshakes are a huge part of that first impression.  In fact, John F. Kennedy commissioned an entire study to determine the best way to give a handshake.  He figured that since he was meeting so many people for the first time he needed to give the right impression.
Shaking hands is an integral part of humanity in the Twenty-first Century.  We shake hands when we greet other professionals in the work place, meet a potential boss for a job interview, greet friends and sometimes family members.  We also shake hands after a business deal and the sale or purchase of a vehicle and a home.

The handshake is a time honored tradition that every man on the face of the earth has engaged in, but is something every man does without realizing the tradition attached to it.  The handshake predates written history, so no one really knows where and when it originated.  There are, however, a few stories that some think could point to its origin.

1.  Some believe that the handshake came from two middle eastern travelers. When they met, they began the traditional greeting of bending over to kiss the others left hand.  But in an act of disrespect, they both grabbed the others right hand for a kiss.  When realized what was happening, they both pulled away resulting in only a grasping of each others hand.  While this is certainly a humorous understanding of the origin of a handshake there is another option which seems more plausible.

2.  During the Middle Ages, sword battles ruled the day.  Many believe that a knight would carry his sword in his right hand.  So an empty hand meant peace and not harm.  A hand free of weapons lead to the handshake. 

3. The Romans grasped each others arm during a greeting to check for the presence of a weapon.  Shaking the hand, they believed, would dislodge a concealed weapon.

Regardless of where it truly originated from, it is clear to me that any group of people living at any time must have had a hand greeting of some kind.  Even if  for no other reason than that of human social contact.

One thing is for sure, you can tell a lot about a person from a handshake  So how can a guy have a meaningful handshake?


1.  CONFIDENCE
Be confident when you go in for the handshake.  You're somebody and you’re not here to be ignored.  So own your space at all times and give a strong confident handshake.

2.  EYE CONTACT
Don’t stare at the ground, for goodness sake.  And do not stare at your hands during the exchange.  Stare at the person directly into the eye.

3.  DON'T BEND OVER
Some people bend over, almost bowing before the other person.  This comes from not getting close enough, so they end up over reaching causing a bow.  However, the whole point about a handshake is showing that you are a man with a back bone.  So reread #1 and walk right up to them.

4.  NO LIMP FISH
I'm sure we have all had a handshake from this guy.  His hand flops about like a limp fish.  You almost want to say, “What the crap was that?”  You need to start doing things with purpose and having a strong, firm grip is the first step.

5.  TWO SHAKES
Their is no hard and fast rule on this, but usually when two men shake they usually grasp the others hand and  give two shakes.

6.  DON'T CRUSH THE HAND
It is no less than irritating to have a guy crush your hand just for a good laugh.  Your shake needs to be firm for sure, but not a hand crusher.  You are definitely not there to show how strong you are.

7.  DON'T LINGER, WEIRDO!
I once had a guy who would not let go.  He insisted on having the entire conversation with me while holding my hand.  He was an older guy so I didn’t smack him.  But in all seriousness don’t linger. It makes others feel uncomfortable.  If you want a conversation, let go of the dude's hand first.

8.  NOT TO EAGER AND NOT TO PASSIVE
"Do all things in moderation," is a good motto.  I have met some guys who were to much and way to eager and others who looked like they could have cared less.  So be the guy who gives a good handshake, but don’t be like a crazed dog when his owner comes home.

At the end of his study, John F. Kennedy found that a two handed shake was more effective.  He would shake with his right hand and cup the shake with his left hand.  While this may have been better for him, I find it can appear to intimate for a first time meet.  I would recommend a firm single handed shake.  However, if you are well acquainted with the individual and the situations warrants it,  you can use either Kennedy's method or while shaking hands simply use your left hand to make contact with their left shoulder.  This act of incorporating the left hand shows that you care a little more and it is definitely more intimate.

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