It’s all in the wrist

Handshakes and the way they are delivered say a lot about you

My grandfather used to say that handshakes were important and the way you delivered one said a lot about you.

If Papa were alive today, I wonder what he would have said about Fred.

After a few text exchanges, coordinating play dates between our kids, I met Fred in person.

I smiled, told him I was happy to finally meet him and extended my hand. Instead of looking me in the eye or smiling in response he blurted out an agitated “Ya, hi,” grabbed my index finger, and awkwardly shook that a few times.

At first I wondered if he was joking. I’ve received some questionable handshakes over the years, but no one had ever singled out just one of my fingers to shake before. He wasn’t joking though. He was either in a rush and accidentally zeroed in on the one digit, or he was in extreme need of a lesson on how to give a proper greeting.

So, on the off-chance he reads this column and the latter is the truth, here’s some advice for you Fred: learn to give a better handshake. It’s so easy a kid can do it.

My children were in preschool when I first taught them.

“Offer your hand with your fingers together and straight, and your thumb high,” I coached them. “When the other person’s thumb is locked next to yours, grip their hand and shake once or twice.”

The first time my son tried it he squeezed my hand so tight I let out a yelp. Impressive strength for a little kid, but it wasn’t how I wanted him to present himself in the future.

This physical greeting should show confidence and enthusiasm, but it shouldn’t overpower the other person. It should also be accompanied by eye contact and a smile, when appropriate.

“What about this thing?” my daughter asked, referring to her left arm. “Do I just leave it hanging here like a monkey?”

“Sure you can,” I replied. “Or you can touch the other person on their arm or do a double handshake cupping the shaking hands from underneath.”

“Like this?” she asked, demonstrating the second option and looking like a mini politician.

“Whatever feels comfortable,” I replied. “Just remember to look the other person in the eye and use their name if you know it. People like hearing their own name.”

To illustrate what not to do, I showed them a few of the common bad handshakes I’ve been subjected to – such as the “dead fish” – where the person’s hand lies limply in yours. Or the “hanger-on” – who holds your hand too long. Or, as my son had already tried on me, the “bone crusher” – who squeezes too tight.

“A bad handshake is memorable,” I explained. “But for the wrong reasons. Make it a good one and you’ll make a good first impression.”

My grandfather was a captain in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II and a businessman in the logging industry after that. When he explained the importance of handshakes and how wars have ended and business deals have begun based on a great shake of the hand, I paid attention.

And now my kids are paying attention. Finger Freddy should too.

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at