Stop Beating Yourself Up for Botching a Handshake

Two men going in for a handshake
It's all good

I botched the shit out of a handshake today. It’s still gnawing at me. Have you ever done that?

My jiu-jitsu coach was the victim.

We had just finished our sparring session and I was on my way out the door. My coach wanted to say goodbye, and he put out his hand. What I gave him in return was a closed fist.

He wrapped his hand around my fist like he won a game of rock paper scissors. Then there was a 1000 year pause. I felt like dying for a good .75 seconds. One of us had to make a move.

My coach must have been feeling nice today, because he’s the one who switched up into a closed fist for a pound. That compromise finally put the nightmare to an end.

It was raining outside when I left. I could have felt good about the exercise I had just gotten, or the new moves I learned. But all I could think of was a closed fist in a wrapped hand.

“God…dammit…” I whispered to myself, still getting stung by embarrassment in the drizzling rain.

Why does stuff like this bother us so much? I think I know why.

Why Do We Handshake?

Some people consider shaking hands to be an art form. It subtly communicates things about the people involved. It’s an indicator of confidence, brotherhood, and mutual understanding. This is true whether your daping your friends or meeting your girlfriend’s father.

It’s speculated that shaking hands dates back to ancient Greek soldiers. A handshake for them meant you weren’t carrying a weapon, and as a result, it became a sign of peace.

But why is shaking hands a necessary component of meeting someone new?

Here’s how I see it:

A handshake is the first stage of trust.

It goes along with saying, “Hi. I’m so and so.” Me shaking your hand is me acknowledging you and igniting what could be our connection. It’s also me saying, “This is who I am. Who are you?” Anthony Fauci says we shouldn’t do this anymore. But I doubt that’ll happen.

When you’re not meeting someone for the first time, a handshake is a sign of respect and admiration. So when two people screw up a handshake, one (or both) of them was afraid of ruining the connection they had with the other person.

Someone was thinking, “I have to get this right so that they’ll like me.”

In my weak moment, this is what I wanted my coach to think too. That’s why it felt so embarrassing.

This is not the way to approach handshakes. Or relationships for that matter.

Embrace the Awkwardness of a Handshake

Think of a handshake as a mode of self-expression. If you’re ashamed of yourself, you’re going to have a weak handshake. And if you try too hard to match the other person’s shake, you’ll end up doing weird stuff that leaves you both confused.

Anyone who wants to shake your hand wants to know who you are, and give you respect. In the moment, you have to show them who that person is.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t on the same page with your shaking technique. What matters is respect and contact.

I could give you a guide to not botching a handshake, but this is what it would sound like:

  • Dictate the Shake
    You decide how you’re going to acknowledge this person. If you commit to the shake you’re going for, they’ll yield to it and follow suit. You submit to no man.
  • Don’t Dictate the Shake
    Playoff of what they do. Let them decide. Go with the flow, like a Zen master.
  • Improvise
    If you both fumble, find some middle ground. Hug instead?
  • Give the Thumb Some Play
    They won’t see it coming.
  • Reject the Shake
    Straight disrespect.

Remember, it’s about connecting with someone. Not showing them how good you are at shaking hands.