Yesterday I happened to cross paths with someone who carries a relatively important level of importance in our community for some folks. Extending a friendly greeting to this person, I reached out to shake his hand. What I got was… a dead fish.
This is honestly a huge pet peeve of mine! To me, how a person shakes hands says a LOT about their confidence and conviction. A weak, limp, soft handshake says “I’m not confident in myself”. For men, especially, it signals to me that you are weak — that you are not a person whom I can trust. I can’t say with certainty that is TRUE, but it’s the impression that matters. And if we’re shaking on a deal or a bet, it says “I may not stand behind this”. It feels ‘untrustworthy’. This said (and not to sound ‘sexist’) but women can get by with this a little more, as it goes back to a time when women in police society offered their hand for a ‘hand-kiss’. But a firm handshake from a woman also indicates that she is self-sufficient. There is nothing wrong with a firm handshake from a woman, and it’s preferred if we are doing business.
There are ways to shake hands, and ways not to. If you meet someone and suspect you are about to shake hands, there are a few things you should do. The obvious is to make sure your hand is free — don’t try to shake hands with something in it! Also, no fist bumps! You should only ‘fist bump’ someone who is already a good acquaintance/friend (and please don’t ‘blow it up’ unless it’s a kid). If your palms feel sweaty, PLEASE wipe your hands on your pants or stick them in your pocket for a moment to dry it off. And when you approach the other person, extend your arm and hand and look them in the eyes. Take a firm hold of their hand, and shake lightly, but strongly. You shake with your whole forearm, NOT just your wrist. A couple of shakes is all it takes… don’t linger and make it awkward.
As noted, there are also ways NOT to shake hands. PLEASE avoid the aforementioned limp, wet, or ‘dead fish’ handshake! Conversely, don’t grab my hand and squeeze the blood to the other side of my body to show how manly or strong you are. I get it bro – you lift! Besides, I’m not a drug store “grip test” machine. Please do not shake my whole arm off, either (old men are often guilty of this). And don’t come in for a “bro-shake/hug” unless we truly have a STRONG and LONG history together. And only grab my hand with both hands if we are very familiar and haven’t seen each other for some time.
Finally, there are times where it is OK to withhold a handshake. For example, if you’re sick or have just greased a car, just say so! In fact, admitting it’s not a good time to shake tells me you are honest. If you go wash (and dry) your hands, then come back for a shake. I’ll see you as someone who is sincere.
So throw the wet fish back in the pond and get with the program. How others perceive you can depend on how you shake hands with others. Isn’t it funny how something so simple can convey so much meaning?