It takes two

By Phillip Gerrish, 31 October 2012 – 0 comment

This simple interaction gets a lot of attention, with a lot of people making comments and quips about what handshakes mean or show about a person. Don't be misled, though, some of our answers might surprise you...

True or false? "You can learn a lot about someone from their handshake."

  1. True
  2. False

Well, it might be fair to assume as much. A weak handshake might show up someone's insecurities. It doesn't mean they're wholly introverted, but they might be uncomfortable at that moment. But don't be deceived. We don't want to go all CSI over this, but a handshake can be 'put on'. It's equally fair to assume that someone might learn and perfect their handshake technique. Like 'the serpent under the flower' a handshake can be a pretence. We don't mean in a sinister way, but don't read too much into handshakes all of the time.

Which of the following does a handshake symbolise?

  1. Equality
  2. Solidarity
  3. Agreement
  4. Empathy
  5. Possession
  6. Authority

Trick question. Answer: all of the above (and more). It'd be impossible to cover everything a handshake could symbolise. But it's got you thinking, right? If a handshake can be 'put on' people could also use it to convey a subliminal message...

How did handshakes originate?

  1. When medieval knights would meet they would shake hands to show they weren't carrying any weapons. It was about building trust.
  2. When people met and weren't sure of their acquaintance's gender. It was customary to kiss a lady's hand, so it became customary to simply clasp hands and omit the kiss so that men didn't end up kissing each other.

Interesting options. There's loads of other theories around. It doesn't much matter why they started, what matters is why they continue to be used. And the reasons why range from building trust to showing solidarity or asserting authority.

What is a 'dead fish' handshake?


'Dead fish' is the name given to an 'apathetic handshake'. You know the type. Often, there's not much shaking involved, just a simple clasping of hands. It doesn't always show apathy, however. They can be tender, friendly, and sympathetic too. It all depends on context.

Will people judge you on your handshake?


Yes. Not all of the time, but you will be judged on them sometimes. So it's a good idea to get it right.

The results...

We don't mean to make you paranoid, or over-think every handshake you engage in. It's a tiny part of the relationship you build with someone. But as they say, the devil is in the detail. Getting it right isn't easy, and there's no universal standard for shaking hands. We won't even try to tell you how it should be done – every situation is different. As with all social and business etiquette it's best learned through practice. Get out and start shaking hands!

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