The Art Of A Decent Handshake
Illustration by Mr Giordano Poloni
Body language expert Mr Les Child shares his tips for a firm but friendly greeting.
Given that the humble handshake has, since the dawn of mankind, been the international method by which we greet strangers and friends, you’d think that most of us would have got the hang of it by now. But sadly, not. From pretty much the very first day of his presidency, Mr Donald Trump has been keeping body language experts busy due to the overzealous displays of dominance expressed through the “Trump Pump”.
“With handshakes, it’s the bad ones that linger in the memory,” says Mr Les Child, a choreographer and body language expert who’s worked with brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci and performance artists Mr Michael Clark and Mr Leigh Bowery. “It’s not too strong to say a bad handshake can be revolting and creepy. It’s a very primal thing to touch someone for the first time, and that’s why I think it provokes such strong reactions.”
Here are Mr Child’s top tips for a handshake that can be forgotten in a hurry.
Just keep it simple
“A good handshake is pretty self-explanatory,” says Mr Child. “Approach them with an upright, open posture, look them in the eye and give them a good firm handshake and a nice smile, for no more than a second or so. And that’s it. It’s just good manners and most people will have learnt how to do it as children.”
Avoid the celebrity handshake
“You don’t want what I call the celebrity handshake,” says Mr Child. “Andy Warhol had a handshake like a wet rag. It was as limp as a lily and with absolutely no eye contact whatsoever. And he barely touched you. Maybe it’s because they shake so many hands it becomes this natural, instinctive thing to not bother any more. I don’t know. But in my experience, celebrities have the worst handshakes.”
Context is everything
“It depends where you are. In southeast Asia handshakes are less tactile and take less time. They’re more likely to give a quick bow or a nod. In France, and in most Latin cultures, you go in close for a handshake followed by a kiss. Also, not all handshakes are greetings. Some can be congratulatory, such as when a couple have announced their engagement. These will naturally be more fulsome, with more smiling and hugging involved.”
Be aware of protocols
“Meeting the Queen or some other dignitary will require more distance and less contact, and perhaps a small bow. It all depends on the protocol, and often, people are briefed on exactly what to do before these ceremonial occasions. In political meetings, handshakes are often used to show dominance over another person. Trump and Macron, in particular, were holding on to each other’s forearms, tapping each other’s shoulders, while shaking hands. It was overzealous. And the wife of the Polish president deliberately snubbed Trump by not shaking his hand.”