4 Reasons Handshakes Go Horribly Wrong

Clammy, creepy, or just plain crap? Consider these ideas before greeting people, so you don’t leave them shaken.

4 Reasons Handshakes Go Horribly Wrong

What’s the feeling you get after receiving a bad handshake? Psychology Today writer Joe Navarro, who gives seminars on such things, finds the post-greeting evaluation often includes hits like “it was wet,” “it was creepy,” or a simple “eeeeuw.”


So how do we give appropriately confident handshakes, in between the dainty finger-tipper and the machismo-laden handcrusher, between the deadfish limpwrister and the I-saw-this-on-TV why-does-this-have-to-be-racially-charged fist bump thing?

These are good questions. And since first impressions are formed in seven seconds, handshakes help set the trajectory of a relationship–making that first contact with a new human crucial. Thankfully we have Alec Baldwin, some golfers, and a few goofy dudes to help us understand what went wrong with that handshake.

1) Pay attention, you galoot

“Make sure you are making eye contact with the person with whom you are shaking hands and avoid distractions,” Navarro says, and it’s good advice: not deigning to attend to another person’s experience of you is a shortcut to becoming hateable. And it makes people feel real, real awkward.

2) Please, please have dry hands

There are few worse reassurances than, after having just shook somebody’s moistened paw, that they explain away the foreign film upon your palm by saying “Oh, I was just in the bathroom.” That’s just great.

The BBC found that a quarter of Brits have fecal matter on their hands; we have little reason to think that Americans are in a less shitty situation. So please wash and dry thoroughly. Please.

3) The epic miscommunication

Humans thrive on social signaling. If we get sent the wrong signals, we behave in strange ways: Behold the unbridled awkwardness below:


Where does the awkward come from? In this case the handshake is like the at-work hug: Someone needs to assume the leadership role and strongly signal whether you’re going for the fist bump or the handshake or the high five or the hug–otherwise you’ll end up as weird as those two unfortunate dudes above.

4) The overshake

There is too much of a good thing: Navarro rails against the “politician’s handshake,” that move where you double-team the other person’s hand with both of your mitts in some strange gesture of forced familiarity.

To inoculate against that, let us heed Navarro’s caution:

No one likes it, it is too personal, and you have to earn the right to do it. Politicians do it thinking you will like them more–you won’t. If you feel you need to touch more, shake the hand normally and with the other touch the forearm.

Otherwise horrible things might happen.

Hat tip: Psychology Today

[Handshake Illustration: file404 via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.