On countless occasions over the past forty years, I have run into a guy I met during my college days. He’s a decent guy. We are the same age and have a significant number of mutual friends. As one might expect, whenever or wherever we happen to meet, we greet each other with a handshake. This is what men of my generation do. What surprises me about shaking hands with this particular person is that I always receive the “dead fish” handshake my father had warned me about — one which is only a partial connection of the hands, with the fingers of one person wrapped around the fingers of the other, and which lacks appropriate firmness. His greeting also consistently lacks eye contact. As he shakes my hand, he looks around, as if he’s looking for someone else.
In my early childhood, my Dad went to great lengths to teach me how to shake a person’s hand. He stressed that a proper handshake consisted of a firm grip, direct eye contact, and, in most situations, a smile. Years later, when Kathy was working in the Marketing Department at AT&T, the sales staff participated in a workshop designed to teach both men and women how to properly shake hands in the workplace. One of the phrases used by the trainer to describe the ideal handshake was “web-to-web.”
Though my Dad never used that term, it accurately describes what he had taught me: web-to-web, a firm grip (without it being a competition of strength), and eye contact for the duration of the handshake.
There was a time when a woman’s handshake was different from that of a man. In fact, the term my Dad used to describe a weak handshake for men may have accurately described a socially-acceptable woman’s handshake. Web-to-web was more masculine, as was the firmness of the grip. As the AT&T employees found out in their training session, things have changed. Today, there is no difference between the handshake of a man or a woman.
It might seem like an insignificant point, but I am convinced that the way we greet people, especially upon meeting someone for the first time, leaves a lasting impression. I will always be grateful for the training my Dad provided me. This basic social skill has served me well in life.