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The manly art of the handshake

This post first appeared in the NoahGetsANailgun blog.

Handshake Statue

The handshake – almost as old as stone

Over the last year or so I’ve become discouraged at the decline of the firm, manly handshake. During the time at church where you turn around and greet those around you, I know there’s a 50/50 chance the guy I’m about to shake hands with will have a lighter grip than my grandmother. And as I’ve had to interact with other boys my son’s age, I’m noticing very few of them know how to properly do this simple, but very important act. Someone once said about making an impression, “three hours of interaction with a stranger is automatically created by the physical touch of that initial handshake.”

For me personally, if I shake your hand and all you give me in return is a dainty little squeeze back, or even worse, you only offer me four fingers to shake, my entire perception of you changes in an instant. I don’t have a study to back it up but I’m telling you, you lose respect from people if after they shake your hand they are left feeling like they just grasped a wet noodle.

You also don’t want to be the guy others never want to shake hands with again because they were bruised from you squeezing too hard. If you hear cracking when you shake someone’s hand then you’re doing it too hard. However, I would opt for the vice grip handshake any day over the wet noodle handshake. At least I know you’re a man. You may have a Napoleon complex but it’s still better than the alternative.

In all seriousness, it is important to own a good handshake and then pass it on to your son. Not sure why its happening, but we have begun to neglect teaching our kids the finer points of human interaction like the handshake. This one act can convey dignity, confidence, and respect. Or it can communicate you have none of these things.

The handshake also speaks to our physical maturity—which is a mark of manhood. Obviously men come in different shapes and sizes and demonstrate different levels of physical power, but common to all men is a natural strength and confidence that is given to us by God. He created us to be strong, masculine individuals. The handshake is a great way we demonstrate control over our God-given strength—not giving a bone-crusher handshake and not giving a limp-fish handshake. By doing it properly, we display our innate masculine design.

Steps to a good handshake:

    • keep the fingers together with the thumb up and open
    • slide your hand into the other person’s so that each person’s web of skin between thumb and forefingers touches the other’s
    • make the pressure firm, but not bone-crushing
    • hold about 3 seconds
    • “pump” once or twice from the elbow if you like
    • release after the shake, even if the introduction continues
    • include good eye contact with the other person

My nine year old and I have practiced his handshake over the last several months. I first sat down and explained to him why a good handshake was important and then we worked on it together. Every so often I’ll walk up to him and hold out my hand to see if he still has it—which he does. He’s also been complimented on having a good handshake by other men and when I circle back with him about that and tell him how proud I am, his chest swells a little and he gets this smile across his face because he knows he’s becoming a man.

Part of our jobs as dads is to teach these kinds of things to our sons. There are a lot of small life lessons like this that are extremely valuable and we need to be instructing our sons. Don’t not engage with your boys because you think it’s not worth talking about or just assume he’ll get if figured out. Big or small, press into these small lessons with your son and be his teacher.

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  1. Dave's Gravatar Dave
    July 7, 2014    

    Thanks Todd
    I sent the boys through the Nagel School of Handshakes tonight. Could not agree more. Dave

    • July 16, 2014    

      Thanks, Dave! Glad this was helpful and I appreciate you teaching and investing in your boys. Todd

  2. July 10, 2014    

    Great advice. Is there a proper way to shake a woman’s hand?

    • Scott Williams's Gravatar Scott Williams
      July 11, 2014    


      Traditionally, a guy shakes a woman’s hand only when she offers it first. In business settings, if you initiate the meeting, you might take the initiative by offering your hand first.

      When shaking hands with a woman, instead of thinking “firm grasp” think “hand hug.” Take your lead by how firmly she offers her hand, and respond in kind. Pretty much like you’d do with a guy, only milder: make eye contact, make hand contact, speak a couple of words while you give a couple of shakes, relax your grip, let go.

  1. The manly art of the handshake - on July 8, 2014 at 6:30 am

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