Pet Peeves

Weak Handshakes

If there’s one thing that really chaps my hide, it’s a weak handshake. You’d think most people would be able to succeed at such a simple gesture – after all, it only requires you to cup your hand around another person’s and move it vertically a few times – but you would unfortunately be incorrect.

This pet peeve came to the forefront this past week as I was tasked with the long and annoying process of looking for a new apartment. As with most young, creatively-inclined New Yorkers, I obviously can’t afford to live on my own and so was therefore forced to pore through Craigslist ads via which I secured meetings with a few prospective roommates.

I can’t count the number of clowns I was introduced to who acted as if they’ve got zero control of their limbs and/or are afraid of contracting the ebola virus by coming in contact with another human’s skin. Many times, this limp gesture was accompanied by pursed lips and/or a look of total disdain. Others, the person seemed to be pulling his or her hand back before it was even fully extended. It baffles me. Plus, it ends up being pretty awkward – if not for them, for me, because I am a genius at handshakes.

Not that it takes much to earn that title. Handshake proficiency is an easily acquired skill. The key is to be firm, make eye contact, and give a sturdy (but not too sturdy) shake and then let go. Also, a smile goes a long way. If you can’t bring yourself to bear your chompers, at least avoid giving the stank eye. It’s simple, and if done right should take no more than 3-4 seconds. Where’s the problem?

I get that some people suffer from crippling shyness, sure. I get that others don’t particularly feel overexcited at meeting new people. I’m with you! I’m about as anti-social as they come and like to hovel away with my books and the one or two other people in my life that I feel completely comfortable with and call it a day. But you can bet your sweet pippy, as my grandfather used to say, that if I’m introduced to someone – be it in a business or casual setting – I’m gonna go hard on that handshake and you will not forget me.

We’re often told growing up about the importance of first impressions. Many people believe that you have a small window during which to make your mark and win over the person with whom you’re meeting. While I don’t think your fate is inevitably sealed if you happen to fumble at introductions, I do think that we live in a society wherein there are way more people than there are opportunities, which necessitates doing whatever you can to make yourself stand out as a person who is smart, capable, and not hesitant in her interactions with others, regardless of the circumstance.

This theory proved useful when, viewing an apartment last week that I knew I’d love even before I got there, I met my future roommates and put the skill into practice. As soon as I was let in, I made eye contact, smiled, shook hands like I had some sense and then launched into small-talk. While they were looking for someone to fill the room immediately and I wasn’t planning on moving until the end of the month, they called less than an hour after I left to tell me that they’d discussed it and liked the “good vibes” I gave off and wanted to come to a compromise.

I picked up the keys the next morning.

If I could write my own version of The Secret for handshakes, the main tenant would be all about confidence. For anyone reading this who knows me, try to suspend your uproarious laughter for a moment and pretend that I’m not one of the most insecure people on the planet. You can be insecure – that’s normal! If you’re not totally vibin’ on yourself, that’s totally okay. Fake it ‘til you make it and lots of times other people won’t be able to tell the difference. You have to believe in yourself if you want others to believe in you. Pretend that you’re aware of your own awesomeness (within reason, of course) and you’ll be okay.

Jennifer Still has an overwhelming fondness for pizza, afternoon naps and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. She rarely changes out of pyjamas during the weekdays. Or the weekends. She writes at and tweets at @jenniferlstill

  • Jenikah Joy

    I laugh because there are other things that should be easy once you cup and move horizontally a few times, but uh are not always successful *wink

    but aside from that, omg, I HATE a weak handshake, esp if a girl thinks its ok to give to another girl. GET A GRIP, wo-man up! if I ever met you, you wouldn’t have broken knuckles, but you would know I met you like I meant it!

  • Susan Blank

    The way I was always taught was not everyone wants to be touched, so don’t force a handshake, hug, etc, but if a HS is being initiated then give a firm HS. I dread the floppy-hand, it makes my firm HS feel like a crushing blow.

  • Marie-Elle Vivaldi

    I’m going to go ahead and *Bravo!* this post. :) Excellent read. I can totally relate to this, your rant turned out to be a “It’s-funny-’cause-it’s-true Inspirational Story” and I’m happy about that.

  • Marissa A. Ross

    If there is anything my father taught me it is never to have a “dead fish” handshake. Ick! They creep me out.

  • Brooke Martin

    Aren’t you supposed to cup your hand around another person’s and move it vertically a few times? Have I been doing it wrong all these years?

    • Jennifer Still

      Clearly I was trying to invent something new and different. Horizontal handshakes are the way of the future! Thanks for the heads up – I’ve conformed to tradition now and changed it! 😉

  • Crisel Eslao


    Horizontal handshakes o.O I’m imagining it and laughing so hard.

  • Emma Pickering

    oh god, they’re almost as bad as wimpy hugs.

    • Jennifer Still

      Ugh, EXACTLY! Wimpy hugs are terrible. The one-armed, light back-pat variety really grind my gears.

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