Leah Panapa: Why a handshake is so important

Opinion 08/08/2019

Remember when a hand shake meant something, sure a formal greeting still sees a pressing of the palms between the parties but when I was growing up my Dad used to say a hand shake meant the deal was done and your word was your bond.

A 2018 study, reported in the Journal of Positive Behaviour, showed it wasn’t just adults that took away a worthwhile exchange from a hand shake. Students that were greeted at the door by their teacher set a positive tone and could increase engagement and reduce disruptive behaviour. 

Just spending a few moments welcoming students promoted a sense of belonging, giving the children social and emotional support that helped them feel invested in their learning.

Of course a high five, fist bump or chest bump is probably more their speed but learning how to shake hands positively and with conviction is a great life skill. 

Somewhere along the line each culture developed different greetings to communicate how we feel about others – from the hongi, to kissing, to hugging, to arm clasping, to the hand shaking in its many forms that is familiar to us today.

If you have done any travel you might have realised that although a common practice, shaking hands is not universal. In some cultures a short bow is more polite and in the Middle East the woman’s hand is not touched at all unless it is offered by her – even in business settings.

If any one has gone in for a hand shake and ended up with a soft, limp, wet hand you will know as easy as it sounds, the question is: how do we get it right? The hands clasp with equal pressure fingers down or at a slight angle curling around the other person’s hand so that the index finger and the thumb actually point toward each other on the back side of their hand. This is held just long enough for it to be comfortable and socially acceptable but not too long. At the same time, it is always good to remember to mirror the handshake of the person who has the highest status – if they give a strong handshake then that is what you do, conversely if it is gentle and short then that is also what you do. 

Always make eye contact, its not cool to shake some ones hand while your eyes a tracking off somewhere else.  Somewhere in the 80’s someone wrote that to establish dominance you should put your hand on the top while shaking, but twisting the other persons hand to show you are in charge is rubbish. (why not urinate on their shoes while you are at it)

Avoid the ‘politicians’ hand shake as well, which is the two hands to cover or cup the other person’s hands. Politicians do it thinking you will like them more .

And finally if you are prone to sweaty palms or suffer from hyperhidrosis – wet hands - before you shake hands make sure you dry them first.