Get a Grip: All about handshakes

When two people get married they are asked to join hands, and since the days of ancient Greece, the handclasp has expressed a covenant by which two parties pledge something. Handshakes have been know to change history.

Handshaking is typically right hands joining since most people are right-handed—70 to 95 percent—and by engaging the dominant hand in this ritual, signals to the other that neither was about to use a weapon. This nonaggression pact some historians believe was why a handshake was primarily a “man thing.” By offering one’s hand to a woman, would have subtly indicated that the woman too, was a dangerous person. The firmness of a handshake also demonstrates a silent type of “male bonding” or advances competitive power. Plus, the vertical shaking pattern may have even been a way to dislodge hidden weapons, thus diffusing more aggressive tactics.

Today things are somewhat different, no one looks aghast at a women’s proffered hand and, the weapons angle, not so much. Handshakes are certainly little less obvious a tactic now and it takes on a more psychological bent. A study completed at the University of Alabama points up the fact that a firm handshake helps to make a good first impression for both males and females. In fact, researchers believe there is a substantial relation between the features of a firm handshake and getting a favorable reaction.

This particular study involved 112 male and female college students whose handshakes were evaluated by four handshake coders who received: one month of training, practice in shaking hands, and with judging the results. The students didn’t know their handshakes were being evaluated and they went through the ritual eight times, as well as filling out a personality questionnaire.

According to William F. Chaplin, Ph.D., the matter of direct observation shows that a person’s handshake is “consistent over time” and his or her personality is very relevant to the behavior. Those students who were more gregarious possessed a firm handshake and were open to new experience. The firm-shaking extroverts also seemed to be less neurotic and shy than those with a limp or flaccid handshake. Researchers say that these factors when combined–strength of the shake with the personality–can help to predict specific behaviors.

The study also identified some sex differences. As expected, males were generally found to have firmer handshakes than women. Women who were thought of as being more liberal, intellectual, and open to new experiences were found to have a firmer handshake grip, and scored a higher approval rating than those women who were more introverted and used a less firm handshake. For the men surprisingly, the opposite was found. Men who were more open had a slightly less firm handshake and made a somewhat poorer impression than did less open men.

Dr. Chaplin claims that women who wish to succeed should make a conscious effort to be slightly more assertive with their handshake. He says, “The result of this study differs from the typical finding that women who exhibit confident behavior that is similar to the behavior of men often make a more negative impression than men.” He reiterates that the study is in most ways, similar to real-world situations of business contacts and employment interviews where, “giving a firm handshake may provide an effective initial form of self-promotion for women that does not have the costs associated with other less subtle forms of assertive self-promotion.”

Care to shake on that?