The Art of the Handshake

by on September 15, 2022 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach

By Edwin Decker

Dear Ed, as a socially incompetent person, I have the same issues as most other awkward people like poor eye contact and an inability to engage in small talk . . . but one thing I really struggle with is handshakes. I know it seems like a silly, small thing but . . .  I always feel like I’m too limp or crushing their bones. I’m so bad at it, I get anxiety every time someone sticks their hand out. Any advice or am I too far gone?

Tom from Schenectady, NY

I must admit, Tom, I initially thought this was a bogus question. It didn’t seem reasonable that a person could have such anxiety over an activity that, to my mind, is as effortless as a smile.

Then I remembered that, for much of my youth, I couldn’t smile. Well, I could, but it was always so weird and awkward, people must have thought I was wetting myself. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I learned how to eke out a decent one. So why should it be difficult for me to believe someone would have a similar problem with handshaking?

And no, Tom, I do not think your problem is a “small, silly” thing. Take the 2012 paper published by Florin and Sanda Dolcos of Beckman Institute which found that “firm, confident yet friendly handshakes enhanced social interactions.”

Well no duh Dolcos’s! What’s the title of your next study, Does Bird Shit Fall Downward?

Kidding aside, this handshaking business is actually fairly sciency. According to the researchers, the results showed, “increased sensitivity to approach than to avoidance behavior in amygdala and superior temporal sulcus, which were linked to a positive evaluation of approach behavior . . .” which is a sciency way of saying, “It’s science, bitches!”

So yeah, Tom, there is a lot riding on an introductory handshake, especially in business.

But I would advise you not to overthink it. Overthinking, itself, translates as insecurity. Just be you. Unless, of course, “You” are a Dead, Clammy-Fish Handshaker (DCFH), in which case firm it up Liberace!

Or maybe you’re a different kind of toxic handshaker, such as The Prolonger, who holds onto the grip for so uncomfortably long it might prompt someone nearby to shout, “Get a room!” Or The Tickler, who curls their index finger to tickle the palm. I would also avoid the Two-Hander technique, which can seem creepy if you’re not selling burial plots to bereaved widows. Ditto the Two-Handed Tickler which is a restraining order waiting to happen.

Incidentally, all this talk about the ramifications of inartful handshakes reminds me of a howdoyoudo that ruined my life. Ok, sure, that’s a bit hyperbolic. When I say it ruined my life, I’m not suggesting that 30 years later I’m still suffering the fallout of that ill-fated handshake. But I kid you not when I say that, at the time, it sent my world into a tailspin.

I used to work as a produce clerk for a supermarket chain called ShopRite. Apparently, the regional supervisor saw potential and began nudging me up the managerial ladder. To that end, the supervisor – who I will call MASHER (Most Awful Shaker of Hands Ever, Really!) – transferred me to another store to train under its produce manager with the idea of eventually transferring me to another ShopRite to run my own produce department. It should also be noted –  only because it is germane to the story – that MASHER was rumored to have been in the closet.

About four months after the transfer – after learning the ropes in produce management, establishing a solid work reputation, making new friends and somehow convincing an alluring, young bonny in the dairy department to start dating me – MASHER walked into the produce aisle.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon and most of the produce employees – including the produce manager – were on the floor. I was stocking eggplants on the other end of the aisle. The supervisor whisked past everyone without so much as a nod, approached me, put out his hand and proceeded to give me one of the lengthiest, clenchy, clammy, awkward handshakes of my life.

“How have you been?” he asked while we shook. We pumped about three or four times after which I tried to dismount, assuming the shake was done. But it was not done. He held on firmly – not pumping, just holding – throughout the entire conversation, the whole time gazing into my eyes.

Everyone saw it. And, as I learned shortly after, it was interpreted as a lover’s reconnection. Word quickly spread that I was not only gay (which in the 80’s was considered worse than being leprotic) but that I was cocksucking my way to the top. Mob mentality being what it is, my queer quid pro quo status was accepted as fact and I was subsequently shunned by nearly everyone in the store, including the produce manager who was training me, including my so-called friends in produce and including my damsel in dairy.

The ensuing harassment was shameful. If they weren’t being rude, or sabotaging my work, they were playing terrible, even felonious, pranks (such as pissing in my drink, spitting in my food etc.) all because of an awkward handshake from an allegedly closeted supervisor who I swear I never blew except for that one time to get a promotion.

So yeah, Tom, handshakes matter. But don’t sweat it. When someone sticks out their hand, take a breath and remember these four easy handshaking rules.

1.    Employ a firm grip, but not too firm; some looseness should be evident, just not too loose.

2.      Keep fingers together, but not too together, just kind of touching each other and not scrunched up. And whatever you do, don’t let one of the fingers break free and accidentally tickle their palm!

3.    Be quick. But not too quick! That would be premature handshakulation which is a no-no. You must shake for the perfect amount of time.

4.    Employ eye contact, but not for long, just long enough, which of course nobody knows exactly how long that is so you’ll just have to feel it out; but if you’re going to err, err on the side of less eye contact, because too much eye contact is creepy. Whatever you do, don’t screw this up! Eye contact is crucial to the success of the encounter and, ultimately, life. See? Easy.

Edwin Decker (of Ocean Beach) is not a licensed therapist or psychologist. In fact, his only qualification is the 25-plus years as a bartender listening to the liver-aching of desperados and dipsomaniacs. Heed his advice at your peril.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ramoaner September 19, 2022 at 3:16 pm

Short but sweet advice would be “get a grip”. It can be awkward when one offers a hand while the other gives a fist bump but here the hand can just follow through as a 5 on the fist . The only truly hazardous interaction would be a fist bump while the other is giving a Japanese style bow . in which case just continue trading punches til one yields and buys a round


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