My Big Mouth: Shaking hands is a window to your personality so why not make an effort?

Comment by Georgina Stubbs

It has to be one of the strangest human traditions. Taking hold of a stranger’s grubby, sweaty hand and shaking it up and down when you meet them; it is a custom that we as Brits do and yet read so much into.

A handshake is the grasping of hands by two people in greeting or leave-taking. It is a short ritual generally accompanied by an up and down movement.

There is nothing more annoying than an effortless offering; why bother?! Some see it as a way to exert their dominance in a bone crushing grip while others clearly do not want to engage in this ritual or exchange, offering a hand as limp as a dead fish.

This form of communication is usually the first contact with a new individual and where a lot of impressions and judgements are made.

People who have limp handshakes are weak and feeble; yes this judgement is made on your handshake alone.

Recognised particularly within the western world as a non verbal form of exchange the handshake can be traced as far back as the fifth century.

Many archaeological ruins and relics depict the handshake, it is thought that it may have originated as a gesture of peace by showing that the hand on offer bears no arms. 

Now the simple handshake has been adopted and interpreted by many cultures and this interpretation says more about us and where we are from than we realise.

Western societies, such as North America, Britain and Australia, generally operate on the principle that a firm handshake is representative of confidence and professionalism and in most cases eye contact is considered a must.

Whereas within the Arabic speaking Middle East, handshakes are usually soft and to grip an individual’s hand in a firm embrace of the handshake can be perceived as rude – it is common to keep the hands limply held together.

Within China many natives will greet westerners with a handshake but will often avert their eyes to the floor and keep them lowered.

A handshake is a window into someone’s personality and culture, there is a certain amount of handshake etiquette that people need to understand and implement.

It would be right to make allowances for certain cultures and differences in handshake styles, but we all know and can make an assessment in a situation where the recipient of our handshake clearly does not want to participate in our embrace and it evidently has nothing to do with their culture.

There is nothing more frustrating than a limp handshake and a poor judgement of your character will be made, it is that simple.

Academics seem to agree. In his study Handshaking, Gender, Personality and First Impressions, Psychologist William Chaplin states: “Nearly everyone will have an extensive set of handshake observations in their memory against which new handshakes can be compared and evaluated.

“Thus, it is reasonable to expect that a handshake might have an impact on the first impression one forms of an individual’s personality.”

Clearly a handshake is as much a part of personality as the way we walk, and talk, it is a part of us. I guess it is just a part of me to dislike a feeble handshake.

Picture courtesy of MyTudut, with thanks.

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