On The Power of a Firm Handshake

Writing on this subject was something I was considering in the last two weeks since I had received a lot of comments from people about my handshake. Coincidently enough, on 13 February 2017, I came across an article from The Huffington Post concerning the uncomfortable way President Donald Trump shook his recipients’ hands. And to my pleasant surprise the article began with the confident match of Justin Trudeau’s prepared handshake. It got me thinking and encouraged me to finally draft this post. 

I was seventeen, maybe eighteen when I was a co-operative student for an Immigration Law firm in Windsor, Ontario. I had no clue about dealing with people in a professional setting. In fact this was the first time I had been in a situation where I had to deal with people older than me who were not my parents, teachers or guidance counsellors. It was nerve-wracking to say the very least. This was probably my first time interviewing and talking about my interests and goals in life. It went smoother than I had thought and I was accepted as the new “co-op” student at this law firm for the semester. My first day at the firm I was introduced to all the employees – there wasn’t that many, given it was a small law firm in Windsor. They welcomed me with friendly smiles and I felt comfortable. A lot of them were paralegals, secretaries and internship students. There was one lawyer, whom I was introduced to at the end. I went to his office feeling quite intimidated. He was this tall, structured man in a perfectly tailored suit. I walked up to his desk and reached for his hand to introduce myself. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it so tightly that the ring I was wearing dug into the soft skin of my finger and left a hole which started to slowly bleed. I wanted to scream or pull away but I could do neither. It felt like an eternity that he was holding my hand in such a firm way, but he did let go. I was so distracted by the handshake that I went into a daze and zoned out his words that followed after. What a powerful handshake! After our brief conversation I left his office staring at my finger, almost in awe. It was that moment that made me realize the power and importance of a firm handshake – and to never wear rings on my right hand.

That day onwards, I never allowed myself to shake anyone’s hand in a limp way. I realized that a firm handshake is the beginning of a concrete foundation. It is the standing pillars of any relationship, regardless of whether it is a professional or personal one. The handshake is your first impression to leave and to take. A lot of people to day remember their first interaction with me because of my firm handshake. However, to my discomfort, I have come across a number of people with lifeless handshakes and sadly, if you’re given only the fingers of a hand, there isn’t much to work with. Just as a firm handshake is one to leave an impression so is that of the opposite. In fact, when I interact with people who do not exercise a good, firm handshake, I immediately lose confidence in the potentiality of this person’s presence in my life. Not to say that this is the only determining factor of whether or not I interact with this person in the future, but it is one of the many initial factors. 

I didn’t wake up one morning with a firm handshake. It is in fact something that I have developed over the course of seven to eight years. A common misconception is that it must mean I work out. That is not the case – working out doesn’t automatically mean that a person will have a firm handshake – it might help the cause, but it’s not dependent on it. A lot of people wonder why? Why do I feel the need to squeeze a then-stranger’s hand so firm and perhaps give it a good amount of shakes before I dislodge and continue in conversation? Well, a firm handshake exerts confidence at the very least, and according to a study published in The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, a firm handshake “touches neural circuits inside the brain that predispose a person toward positive feelings of competence, trustworthiness, and it opens a relationship of positive cooperation while suppressing negative feelings and avoidance behaviour.” These are some of the reasons why I shake my recipients’ hands firmly.

Anyway, these comments that were made to me about my handshake were made out of surprise, and I realized that not a lot of people are exposed to powerful or firm handshakes. In fact, several months ago a friend of mine posted a status on Facebook regarding handshakes, saying: Nothing like a limp handshake to make you lose your respect for someone.” The amount of people that responded to this post was significant and they all seemed to agree with the comment. Even with so much awareness, there are still people who lack in this minuscule yet powerful body language. Should learning how to develop a firm handshake be a topic of discussion in Careers and Civics courses? Have you ever evaluated your own handshake or have you come across a firm or limp handshake? What are you thoughts and feelings about either? Let me know by commenting below! I would love to know what you think! 

One Reply to “On The Power of a Firm Handshake”

  1. It seems that since the dawn of the business age, body language and handshakes have been a prevalent way gauging someone on who they are. As the term implies, “body language” will speak volumes without saying a word. This can go from someone folding their arms and slumping, to people sitting up right at attention. It's also interesting to view the rest of the world on body language — ex. Japanese people do not shake hands (except with foreigners), but instead bow.

    This is definitely something that should be taught in Careers and Civics classes but they are actually covered in more advanced personal selling/psychology classes in post-secondary. Which makes me think that such a topic is not readily discussed with the masses as there is no real need for them to understand it, but yet, we will always judge people who fail to meet certain body language standards.


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