Hugh Wilson
21 April 2011 12:21 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Him

What your handshake says about you

What your handshake says about you (© Getty Images)

A simple handshake can reveal all sorts of things about a man's personality and mood.

When we meet someone for the first time, or meet them again, or complete an agreement with them, we intertwine opposite hands and make a short up and down pumping movement. In a word, we shake hands.

And we've been doing it for a long time. Archaeological evidence suggests that hand shaking was going on at least as far back as the 5th century BC. Nobody really knows why we started shaking hands as a gesture of greeting, but one theory is that shaking hands proved you weren't holding a weapon. You had come in peace.

It's fair to say that most people don't carry spears around with them anymore, but the humble handshake is still infused with meaning. Here are 10 things your handshake says about you.


Surprisingly, the first thing your handshake could say is something about the state of your health. According to a study by the Medical Research Council, people with a firm handshake tend to live longer than those whose handshakes are little more than a fleeting brush of palms.

The research found that strength of grip was associated with longevity, even in the young. Those with the weakest handshakes were 70% more likely to die at any given time than those with the strongest handshakes.

The researchers suggested that a strong handshake in young people might indicate good nutrition and plenty of exercise when they were growing up, which in turn pointed to a long and healthy life.

On Bing: the origins of the handshake

Anger and insult

There's always a huge kerfuffle when one football manager refuses to shake the hand of another after a match (see Roberto Mancini and Mark Hughes this season, for example).

Football managers Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini (© AP Photo)

That's because refusing a handshake is about the most potent symbolic act of rejection it's possible to give.

On Bing: handshake controversies in football


Another thing your handshake may give away is your membership of secret societies or clubs.

It's often said that freemasons use a secret handshake to advertise their loyalty to the society, and it's known that street gangs have also developed unique handshakes to foster solidarity and brotherhood.

On Bing: learn more about Masonic handshakes

On MSN Him: the world's most secret societies


You might think that a firm handshake would be associated with confidence, and you'd be right.

Man confidently extending his hand for a handshake (© Rex Features)

In a study by researchers at the University of Alabama, men with strong handshakes - those that involved a more complete grip and were stronger, more vigorous, longer in duration and included more eye contact - were also more extroverted, open to experience and less neurotic than men with weaker, briefer handshakes, with less accompanying eye contact.

On Bing: how to convey confidence through body language


By the same token, a limp handshake is sometimes described as akin to grasping a dead fish. And that's not a good thing (as perhaps you realised).

Prospective employers said they're more likely to overlook visible body piercings and tattoos than an ineffective handshake, according to one study of human resources professionals.

The 'dead fish' conveys weakness and a lack of confidence.

On Bing: more job interview advice and tips


Sweaty palms are often characterised as a sign of nervousness, and the knowledge that you're bricking it is probably not an advantage you want to give to your opponent in a tense business meeting.

Anxious man loosening collar (© Rex Features)

Even if it's really just a sign that the office air conditioning system has broken down, greeting another with an exchange of sweat is rarely a good strategy.

Wash and dry your hands before offering them for the subconscious analysis of your business rivals.

On Bing: how to overcome anxiety


When you've been in business for a while or you've been in other situations requiring a handshake, you'll know the golden rule of handshake duration.

More than three pumps marks you out as either an amateur or an eccentric. Neither is likely to land the job or the contract. If you're with friends or family, on the other hand, be as eccentric as you like.

On Bing: more professional handshake tips


A handshake can mark a brief greeting, or it can mean much more.

An affectionate handshake conveying trust and friendship (© PA Wire)

If you shake someone's hand while covering the shake with your other hand, it's a sign of trust, friendship and affection.

But this should only be used with people you know well. It would be considered overly familiar with business contacts or people you've only just met.

On Bing: how to build trust


A finger-crushing handshake is unnecessary and marks you out as a bully or someone so desperate to prove their alpha male status they've lost all sense of proportion.

Turning the hands mid-shake so that yours is on top is also a sign of perceived superiority, and is unlikely to win you any friends.

On Bing: how to combat bullying in the workplace


The ideal handshake in most situations might be described as the Goldilocks handshake - not too tight, not too limp, but just right.

Businessman executing a professional handshake (© Rex Features)

First off, stand up if you're sitting, and if you're carrying a plate or a drink, transfer them to the left hand rather than trying to shake with the left.

Extend your right hand when you're about 3ft away from the other party. Grasp the other person's hand to the point where the web between your thumb and forefinger and the web between his (or hers) meet.

Remember the Goldilocks grip theory. Then make eye contact, pump two or three times, and release. This is a confident shake that's appropriate for pretty much any situation.

On Bing: more tips for the perfect handshake

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