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Shaking hands is not a contest

Posted by Peter Post  July 3, 2012 07:00 AM

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She extended her hand in greeting. The man, a former politician, enthusiastically reached out, grabbed her hand and squeezed. He squeezed hard. When he let go, my wife stepped away, rubbing her knuckles. The expression on her face was not a happy one.

It turns out for the next six months her hand was sore. She flinched when faced with shaking hands with anyone for fear it would aggravate the injury. And she never forgot the person who shook her hand so strongly.

Her injury and fear are not the results a handshake should achieve. The handshake is an integral part of greeting someone and should be a pleasant, positive experience. Even today she still will recount the story if the conversation turns to handshakes.

Every now and then, someone makes a contest out of shaking hands, squeezing noticeably harder than I am. I try to ignore it, but the reality is I don’t appreciate it. On the flip side, occasionally, I’ll shake hands and feel as though I just grabbed a dead fish. Ugh! In either case the focus is on the handshake itself and not on enjoying the moment of greeting.

Shaking hands is part of our culture. It’s an expected norm when we greet each other, and it’s the first step in building a relationship. Most of the time I find the person shaking hands with me does it correctly: firm grip but not too firm, crook of my thumb against the crook of the other person’s thumb, two or three shakes and release. That’s it. When greeting someone, expect to shake hands and then do it in away that shows your respect and pleasure of the encounter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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