A Firm Handshake is a Good Handshake
The inherent awkwardness in how to properly shake hands remains a serious issue for many people. For me, the problems started early. In my elementary school reigned two principal proponents of both handshake disciplines: Mr. Joyner, a calculus teacher, who possessed a soft-soul grip comparable to a Victorian duchesses’ at a tea party, and Mr. Salazar, gym obviously, who with accidental ease would grind your knuckles and meta-carpals like Indians grind maize. It was difficult to navigate these extremes. In the Joyner camp, one felt disconnected and largely unacknowledged; however, with Salazar, you were made a constant object of spectacle as you desperately tried to dam up your extraordinarily active tear ducts.
Splitting the difference is a delicate balance; one imagines Aristotle’s Golden Mean could settle the dispute with a theoretically motivated, capital p “Perfect Handshake”. There are however agent-sensitive difficulties at play. For example, to what area on the hand should pressure be directed? When firmness is the goal, too much pressure on the fingertips is sure to leave the recipient both unnerved in your intentions and in severe discomfort; might I remind the reader that squeezing the fingertips is a Jiu Jitsu technique for rendering attackers extraordinary amounts of pain. Conversely, putting pressure on the palm part of the hand may be inadequate because of the increased muscle mass in this particular area. Thus, directing the brunt of the handshake to this part of the hand may result in an ineffective shake; not a dead fish, but a demonstrably frail flounder.
Through my own experiences I discovered a handshake that trumps the dilemmas of both previous handshake disciplines. I call it the “Solid Shake”, and it is firm, uncompromising, and ready for serious business. The Solid Shake is accomplished with the following formula. When first locking hands with your interlocutors, slightly spread your fingers to cover maximum area of their hand. This gives you a large surface area to squeeze, allowing for neutrality if preferable, but defense if necessary. Then, squeeze enough that your hand pressurizes all covered portions of your interlocutors’, while still allowing them to maneuver for their own counter-pressure. This kind of tactical move establishes your availability to bring the heat, but willingness to remain allies for the time being. If one encounters a person worthy of respect, it is often appropriate to bring in the other hand for a slight, two handed squeeze; however, this move can sometimes be interpreted in a hostile fashion. For this reason, the practitioner ought to consider a slight head bow, allowing for their respect to be apparent. Nevertheless, regardless of whether or not the bow and second-hand squeeze are administered, the practitioner must remember to apply a final flare of pressure before releasing the hand.
The Solid Shake is sufficient for trumping the daunting grip of the WWII Veteran, the slimy slickness of sweaty-palm politicians, and the hand gymnastics of inner-city hip hop kids. This I believe: a firm handshake is a good handshake.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.