You have to Hand it to the Handshake

The Handshake

You often hear the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and rightly so. Sometimes a visual representation succinctly says more than words ever could. When we meet people, we often use non-verbal visual communication to convey a message. A smile, a frown, and a wink are examples of how we replace words with gestures.

Premier among these non-verbal ways to communicate is the handshake. It’s a common way to say hello, say goodbye, agree with, or congratulate someone. It has a rich history of usage over the years in different permutations. The handshake is a part of our everyday social and business lives.

How do you define a handshake?

A handshake is the act of clasping and shaking a person’s hand. Of course, variations thereof exist, and some have varying degrees of complexity. Just watch some of the hand manoeuvrings when professional sports athletes, score a goal, a touchdown, hit a homerun, and such. Often team-mates engage in exquisitely choreographed handshakes for the cameras.

Let’s look at a few types of handshakes. First is the basic traditional handshake most of us are familiar with and use regularly. This involves eye contact with the person you are meeting. You then both extend your right hand at the same time and clasp each other’s. You then proceed to “shake each other’s hands” a few times. That’s it!

The High Five

This is a handshake that doesn’t involve “clasping” hands but instead “slapping” hands. The parties involved raise their right hand above their shoulders with their five fingers pointing towards the sky. They then proceed to swing their right arms until their right hands meet in a slap. It’s a more modern version of the traditional handshake.

The Fist Shake

Another variation of the traditional handshake is the fist shake. Here, two people meeting squeeze their respective right hand’s into a fist position, as if they were about to engage in a boxing match. However, there’s no fighting here, instead they push their fists towards each other in a friendly way and touch each other’s fist. Again, no clasping of the hands takes place.

Finger combinations

There are many different finger combinations in handshakes tool, limited only by the ingenuity of the participants. One can extend their hand and then curl their fingers inward. As they do, they clasp the other person’s curled fingers, so they “hook” their respective fingers together and then shake.

More traditional handshakes

In North America and in Europe a firm, short handshake indicates self-confidence. In many parts of Africa, in some Oriental countries, and parts of the Middle East a less-firm handshake is more common but it is not an indication of weakness.

Concerning the traditional handshake, you can communicate much by how you offer your hand when you meet someone. Here are seven styles of traditional handshake. Of course there are more, however, these are a good representation, and offer a glimpse into what a person may be telling you with a particular style.

The Indifferent Handshake (aka the dead fish)

This is a limp handshake, when the receiver expects it to be a firm one. Some call this the “dead fish” handshake. It can show lack of interest and sometimes respect for the person receiving it. It can also indicate lack of confidence from the person giving it.

The Sweating Hands Handshake

This type of handshake often indicates that the giver is feeling nervous.

The Fleeting Grasp and Release

This is often an “I’ll touch you quick and then let go so that I can get this over with as soon as possible” kind of handshake. It can indicate the person doing this doesn’t have time for you. It can also indicate that the person is on the defensive and feels threatened by your presence. In other words, they’re ready to protect their territory.

The Five Finger Discount

Discount here is in the sense that the person is not giving you a full value handshake. They only clasp your fingers, not your whole hand. As they shake your fingers, they’re keeping you at a distance from them.

The Vice Grip

This is the opposite spectrum of the limp handshake. Here, the person clasps your hand and squeezes unreasonably hard. This is to the point of the handshake being painful. The intent of this type of traditional handshake is to intimidate. It is a show of power.

The Campaign Handshake

This handshake is akin to a politician meeting the public. The person will shake your right hand with their right hand, while placing their left hand on your arm or shoulder. They may cover your shaking hand with their left hand. They are trying to make a connection with you. It may be sincere, or insincere, depending on the person.

The Tentative Handshake

With this handshake, the person you meet clasps your hands, but as they shake, their palms don’t touch yours. They may be timid, wanting to connect, but shyness hinders them. It could also be they don’t want to reveal all to you. They have their palm curled like a spoon. The concave part doesn’t meet up with your extended flat palm.

The future of the handshake

Is the handshake still in wide use? It is, although many other ways of greeting are popular these days. There’s the cheek-to-cheek brush non-kiss hug. There’s the kissing hug. The air kiss is still in use too and so is the bump-a-bump, where two friends who meet bounce off each other’s hip in greeting.

Handshakes lately have taken a hit because of the H1N1 concerns prevalent worldwide. In Germany doctors have given up shaking the hand of their patient.  Some churches that employ a handshake in services as a form of greeting between celebrants are holding off on this practice for now. In addition, many people are limiting their physical contact with those they meet for the same reasons. It’s just the sign of the times during this current influenza situation.

But you have to hand it to the handshake because it is here to stay. A form of social expression, it has as its foundation the traditional handshake many use each work day. It also has a penchant for evolving into newer forms. Whether you use the basic format or a finger or palm twisting variation, a good handshake speaks a multitude of words.


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