Understanding the Handshake


Avoid the Knuckle Cruncher or Dead Fish, make eye contact, squeeze firmly, be present, and keep practicing! It sounds like a lot to consider when it comes to simply shaking hands. But the significance of the handshake goes back so far and has such deeply integrated roots that it only makes sense it is a bit more complicated than what it may appear. 

Origin, History and Evolution

The handshake was depicted for one of the first times in a ninth century BC relief, and in early literature by poet Homer, who spoke of the action in Iliad and Odyssey. These early indications were using handshakes to speak of pledges and displays of trust. Similarly, in ancient Rome, the handshake was a symbol of friendship and loyalty, and on gravestones was used to make the eternal bond between the living and the dead. 

The use of the handshake evolved through history however, and historians believe it was made commonplace by the 17th century Quakers, who preferred this simple gesture over bowing. The greeting continued to become more common and accepted, and by the 1800s was often detailed explicitly in etiquette manuals, offering guidelines on how to properly shake someone’s hand, who’s to shake, and what it meant to offer the handshake as a greeting or gesture. 


What it Means

Today, much of that remains the same, and handshakes offer a way of greeting and saying hello to an individual. This is true whether you are meeting the person for the first time or have spoken to them many times over. The meaning of the interaction extends further however, when the handshake is between adversaries. In these cases, it is one of the highest forms of symbolic currency and represents significant power. 

Think about for example, monumental handshakes in history, such as Richard Nixon and Mae Zedong, or the handshake between the Queen and ex-IRA Martin McGuinness. These are moments in history that are marked, not for the handshake itself, but for what it symbolizes: a way to indicate resolution of conflict, a way to show respect, an ability to overcome historical grievances, and an ability to send positive signals to people and communities. 


Why it’s Significant

In the modern day, it is not uncommon to meet someone without shaking hands, or, conversely, to find hand shaking simply as a reflex action without much thought. This has, in many ways, made the significance of shaking hands seem less pertinent and not as well understood. But in historic times, this was far from the case. 

Today, the importance of a handshake lies less in the meaning behind it, and in the action itself. You have no doubt heard something like, “she has a good handshake,” or “he gave a better handshake.” Indeed, the strength and confidence of a handshake has been implemented in studies on job interviews, intimacy and trust, and in one study, researchers found that management experts said it was “more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability” when it came to hiring a new employee. If it sounds too good to be true, maybe you just need to hone your handshake skills and give it a try!

yad cheriYad Cheri, Inc.