A strong handshake conveys confidence; A weak handshake, not so much

Author: Sharon Berman | June 2, 2016

Demonstrate a firm handshake when you meet a person, especially if it’s someone you want to make a good impression on, like a prospective employer or client. Seems simple to understand and to do, doesn’t it? Well, it must not be, because we meet plenty of people who grip our offered hand with a “limp fish” handshake.

This was the conversation that came up immediately after I met a young woman at a conference and we shook hands. She had a very firm handshake, and she said to me that she liked my handshake, which was probably even firmer than usual because I was responding to her strong grip. She also expressed her irritation with people who have a weak handshake.

This woman said out loud what goes through my mind, and maybe yours, when you encounter someone with a limp handshake. The thoughts flash through so quickly that I usually don’t verbalize them, but this conversation did just that. If someone gives me a weak handshake, I respond in kind, thinking unconsciously that that is what they would prefer. But I am also silently thinking that they have a lousy handshake.

My new friend was wondering how people fail to realize how much they are communicating about themselves if they have a less-than-adequate handshake, which in itself is interesting. Why do we shake hands, anyway?

What is the reason that, when we first meet someone we have never met before, we touch them – something that normally is reserved for more intimate moments? Imagine if you shook hands with someone you just met, and sat down to start the meeting. Then in the middle of the meeting you reached out and put your hand on their hand again. That could end the meeting very quickly and you probably wouldn’t get the positive outcome you were pursuing.

Shaking hands could be a remnant of ancient military recognition or perhaps it goes back to the days when we lived in caves and touch was part of the recognition process. Whatever the origin, it remains true today that for most of us a firm handshake indicates a person’s level of self-confidence and trustworthiness.

For better or worse, a handshake confers a personal history and world perspective to the other person. A weak handshake may cause the other person to wonder: Why did your parents fail to teach you the importance of a firm grip? Did you have an unhappy childhood? Do you have an aversion to touching people, or are you a germophobe? Do you not want to communicate confidence, and if so, why not?

I have not done any studies, but it seems to me that the majority of business people whose handshakes do not impart strength both literally and figuratively might change their grip if they understood what the rest of us are thinking. Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but a handshake is like a muscle. Wouldn’t exercising it to make it stronger be a simple way to improve your self-marketing?

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