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Consciously or not, we all make judgments based on someone's handshake, and first impressions are often lasting ones.

You might (or might not) be interested in knowing that the social greeting we know as the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. Kay Jewett

Sticking out your hand generally meant that you came in peace and proved that the proffered hand was not holding a weapon. The practice continued in medieval Europe, where knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose a hidden knife or spear. It was all about self-protection in those days.

So why should I care, you may ask. The reason is that the handshake has evolved into something entirely different from its original meaning. Something that, if you're not careful, can affect your entire life, and not necessarily in a good way.

Consciously or not, we all make judgments based on someone's handshake, and first impressions are often lasting ones. A handshake, for better or worse, can define what kind of person you are. Having a bad one actually can affect how successful you are in life.

According to Dr. Lillian Glass, renowned body language expert, the following applies: If you shake with too firm a grip, you are signaling a wish to dominate. A weak handshake indicates a lack of interest — it says that you really don't care. If you place both hands on another person's hand, it is a sign of honesty, liking and trust. If you rush through the handshake, you indicate that you're nervous. A lingering shake makes you seem desperate.

Then there's eye contact during the handshake. An intense stare indicates aggression. Looking off to the side says "you're inconsequential." Lack of eye contact altogether is very rude, and you'd better hope you're not seated together at dinner.

Most of us have been the recipient of each of the various aforementioned handshakes. Let's say, for instance, that you are caught in an overly firm grip, which can be downright painful. From the shaker's perspective, he may be thinking that he's impressing you by being strong and assertive. What if you're considering him for employment? From your perspective, he not only physically hurt you, but he undoubtedly made you mad and you will probably decide, on the spot, not to hire him.

Conversely, you are sometimes approached by someone who gives you a "limp-as-a-dead fish" hand squeeze. Hand in hand with that is that it's usually a warm and sweaty squeeze. So what's your first impression of this person?

Right. Not good. My own such experience occurred at a community event when I was introduced to a gentleman who was quite well known locally and whose work I had admired in the past. I was looking forward to meeting him. Much to my alarm, his grasp was limp, soft and damp, and I felt as though I had just grasped the contents of a compost bin. Sorry to say, but it was revolting and I can tell you that, right or wrong, fair or not, that first impression will always stay with me.

How about when someone shakes your hand and continues to shake it. Chances are, he/she has made you uncomfortable and left you wondering why he seemed so needy. What if the shaker doesn't look you in the eye, but glances to the side or off into the distance? You most likely would view that person as rude, and you certainly would feel snubbed.

Now flip the coin: you're the one extending your hand. What kind of handshake do you have?

According to Glass, the perfect handshake is one that is executed with dry hands (wipe them off if you're sweating.) The handshake should be neither too firm nor too weak. Strive for a perfect pressure. Maintain eye contact with a soft, warm gaze. Remember that a handshake is as much a part of your personality as the way you walk. For better or worse, it leaves an instant and lasting impression.

So we've gone from handshakes that were a check for weapons to handshakes that define our personalities. So what's next? It could very well be as comedian Conan O'Brien says: "Some scientists want to replace the handshake with a fist-bump. Others want to replace the fist-bump with the tush-push!"

Ah, progress.

Kay Jewett, who overall prefers a curtsy, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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