Humans have become really expert at loading a lot of meaning into symbols and rituals. We use them every day to make sense and frame significance in our world. They tap into our feelings, catch imagination and most importantly, they convey layers of meaning that go well beyond the obvious.
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To shake hands is one of those really important rituals and it’s surprising how many people just cannot do this nicely.
A handshake – really, what is it? I grip your hand with mine, with my hand completely in to the thumb-V and wag it up and down firmly, maybe three times; maintain comfortable eye contact and smile warmly. This gesture symbolically means much: welcome, respect, trust, connection, safety, engagement, equality, friendship, thanks. It creates rapport in a very short space of time.
Women should not wait for the extended hand – they should initiate the handshake themselves. Men don’t always know whether to shake a woman’s hand or not, so girls, take the initiative.
And a word of warning – the handshake can go wrong. Some just offer their fingers. Some don’t get a strong enough grip. Some don’t match it with the eye contact and greeting. Some can be a bit too aggressive and turn it into a game of dominance. Don’t turn your hand over the top of the other person’s – it’s very discourteous. If someone does that to you, turn it gently back to the middle. Mark Latham classically gave John Howard an infamous dominating handshake that disturbed the Australian electorate in the last moments of the 2004 election campaign.
- Image: Penny Bradbury
A great handshake is a personal communication tool and an asset in establishing relationships on the right footing fast.