One evening, not long after I graduated from college, my father and I paid a social call on a new acquaintance of his, a  tall, talkative man probably in his sixties. At the end of the visit, I shook our host’s hand. To my surprise, he began lecturing me on the virtues of an assertive handshake.  He knew I’d just started a career as a newspaper reporter, and he thought I needed a good firm grip to make the right impression on people. We stood there and practiced for a few moments.

After that unexpected schooling, I resolved to do better. For a while, I proffered an aggressively strong handshake to one and all. It was not always returned in kind, and I sensed that some people would have preferred the passive grip I’d disavowed. Eventually, after trying out handshakes of varying lengths and pressures, I settled on a fairly brief, medium-light clasp that no one would mistake for performance art. I’m not sure my long-ago handshake tutor would have liked it, but at least it hasn’t provoked any further lectures.

What is the best type of handshake? What is the creepiest? Here are my thoughts and ratings on a scale of one to five shakes:

The Crunch. You’ve met Crunchers. They have hearty smiles and alarmingly good eye contact. The Cruncher says,”Nice to meet you!” and you say (to yourself), “Ow!” Not a great start for friendship or business, but Crunchers are trying so hard to make a favorable impression that I cut them some handshake slack.

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The Lady Shake. You don’t have to be a lady to do the lady shake. All you have to do is offer the tips of your fingers to the other person as if you were feeding a cricket to a python. Is it the height of politesse?  Having reach that height at first meeting, is there anywhere to go but down?

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The Shake-and-Kiss. I first encountered the Shake-and-Kiss in New England. Let’s say I’m at a party, and I run into the husband of a friend from work. In the midst of the hello-again handshake, this very proper fellow kisses me on the cheek. In contrast to a joyously unwieldy hug and kiss, the Shake-and-Kiss is a marvel of platonic precision: the kiss lands where it should without schmooshing one’s hair or violating an ear. Better still, after a properly executed Shake-and-Kiss, both parties can head straight for the chips and dip: one good combo deserves another.

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The Long Shake. Have you ever shaken hands with someone who won’t let go? Sometimes your hand gets repeatedly pumped, sometimes just gently but unyieldingly held. If the person’s left hand gets involved, make no mistake: you’re in a hostage situation. When you get trapped like that, you want to scream, “Give me my hand back, now!” And yet if you were to scream and yank your hand away, that would mean abandoning all attempts at the Friendly Clasp ….


The Friendly Clasp. Not crunchy, not noodley. Neither sweaty-hot nor Morticia Addams-cold. Not too pumpy and not wax-museum still. As incisive and assured as Michelle Obama, the Friendly Clasp gets job offers and lunch dates. It never malingers. A model of dignity and good humor, it is an upstanding citizen in the nation of body language. Give it up for the Friendly Clasp!

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