The Lost Art of Handshake

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A year ago, I attended a business conference. During the course of the meeting, I was introduced to a prominent venture capitalist from Silicon Valley. He was rather short and had a reputation for being brusque.

I offered my hand for a handshake, only to realize he had already moved away from me. Our attempts to link hands never materialized. In retrospect, this seems fitting since he was unwilling to invest in my company’s fund-raising effort.

I am sure there are some who would say that this is not that important and that it is more important to focus on having a good product. I disagree.

In my career as an executive recruiter, I’ve interviewed thousands of people and shaken countless hands. Just as first impressions are often lasting ones, I believe you can tell a lot about someone by their handshake, including what type of work they do.

I find that job candidates in creative fields tend to have the most confident handshakes while those in manufacturing or sales often have the weakest handshakes. It is rare to find someone with a weak handshake who has ever been promoted into management or won an award for salesmanship. Conversely, hiring managers tend to have confident handshakes while those who have been laid off

Since the handshake is so ingrained in our culture, it may seem odd to consider it a lost art. But in light of the number of people who offer a limp or dead fish when they shake hands, it’s clear that many of us have forgotten what a good handshake is. A firm handshake offers several important benefits to both parties:

If you want to create wealth, it will help to understand what it is. Wealth is not the same thing as money. Wealth is as old as human history. Far older, in fact; ants have wealth. Money is a comparatively recent invention.

Wealth is the fundamental thing. Wealth is stuff we want: food, clothes, houses, cars, gadgets, travel to interesting places, and so on. You can have wealth without having money. If you had a magic machine that could on command make you a car or cook you dinner or do your laundry, or do anything else you wanted, you wouldn’t need money. Whereas if you were in the middle of Antarctica, where there is nothing to buy, it wouldn’t matter how much money you had.

Wealth is what you want, not money. But if wealth is the important thing, why does everyone talk about making money? It is a kind of shorthand:

When I started writing this column in the mid-1990s, people were still shaking hands a lot, and when they did it was mostly with a firm grip. Now there’s less handshaking, and when it happens the handshake is often limp.

I hear two explanations. The first is people are increasingly germophobic, and a handshake carries germs. But if you’re worried about germs, why would you want to shake hands with someone? Instead of shaking with your right hand, for example, you could offer your left.

The other explanation is that we’re more sensitive to social differences. If you’re equal or below someone socially, don’t impose on them by shaking their hand firmly; if you’re above them socially, don’t intimidate them by shaking too firmly.

This doesn’t sound right to me either. One reason everyone knew how firmly to shake hands was because they were used to doing it so much. If that’s right, then people are less good at shaking hands not because they care more about social differences but because they care less about other people in general.

My own theory is that people have stopped shaking hands because we’ve entered an era of sissyfication with the rise of metrosexuality and the decline of masculinity

The most widely used form of tactile greeting is the handshake. It’s been around for thousands of years, and even though its history has not been one of continuous use, it’s still the most accepted way to greet a person.

The handshake began as a form of greeting in ancient Greece, where people would shake right hands as a symbol of trust. The practice was maintained throughout the Roman Empire, but disappeared during the Middle Ages when it became fashionable to kiss on the lips or embrace when greeting someone.

The custom did not return until European explorers showed up in the New World, where the natives had no knowledge of their germs and were known to shake hands with strangers to show their peaceful intentions. (I have my own theory that this is where “Indian giver” came from; if they weren’t shaking your hand they were probably scalping you.)

The modern form of handshake was popularized by the Quakers in 1670, who wanted a simple and peaceful way to greet each other. The Quakers also introduced kissing on the cheek as a form of greeting; women would kiss women, and men would kiss women, but men never kissed each other on the cheek (at least not until about 20 years ago). They did all kinds of other weird things –

In the 13th century, Pope Innocent III mandated that the Papal handshake be performed with the right hand only. This was a precautionary measure to prevent the evil eye from being cast by shaking with both hands. As times changed, so did the handshake.

In 19th century America, it became commonplace for cowboys to shake hands when they met, especially if they were meeting to negotiate a price for cattle. The deal was sealed when they shook hands, and the handshake became known as “sealing the deal.”

Today, most of us use our left hand as an accessory to hold our phone or a briefcase while we shake hands with our right. In Japan and China, however, that is not the case. It is considered rude to shake hands while holding something in your left hand. We make a conscious effort to avoid using our left hand at all when dining with others in those countries. It is interesting that this custom has not yet been exported around the world; many people still offer their left hand for a handshake without even thinking about it. Even here in America, some people who are not aware of this custom may offer their left hand when shaking hands if they don’t realize how it is perceived by others who are watching!

The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. – Mark Twain

Business is built on relationships, and the handshake is a symbol of that relationship. So what does it mean when someone doesn’t shake your hand?

If you are looking to make a good first impression, there are few gestures as powerful as a proper handshake. A strong handshake can help you come across as confident and competent.

The traditional handshake originated as a way for people to show they didn’t have weapons in their hands prior to greeting one another. The handshake can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was believed that once the handshake was completed, each person’s spirit would flow into the other’s body.

A good handshake is vital to a first impression. It can be the difference between getting an investor to take you seriously and not. A bad handshake can make you seem weak, nervous and insincere.

A proper handshake should be firm, but not bone-crushing (that’s just rude). You want to make eye contact, smile and give your full attention to the person you’re meeting. If you are right handed, offer your right hand (and vice versa if you’re left handed). If you are sitting down, stand up to greet someone with a shake. If you’re standing, stay standing while shaking hands. Do not sit back down until your guest has sat down.

You don’t have to wait for someone to extend their hand first. Feel free to initiate the handshake yourself — it shows confidence and self-assurance. And if you are in a situation where there is a line of people all waiting to shake hands with someone, don’t let them off easily by shaking with their palm up or half-heartedly offering just two fingers — that’s like giving someone a high-five instead of a fist bump. Make sure they give you the same amount of effort that you are giving them, even if it means inserting yourself into the conversation when they

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