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Handshake Etiquette

Updated on November 11, 2009

Handshake Etiquette

Handshaking has been around for centuries. Most commonly, it is a male tradition. We men have seen our fathers shake hands numerous times and in seeing this it became apparent that is what you do. Are any of us taught how to do it correctly though?

Roaming this great big planet I have learned that a few people know how to shake hands correctly. Some do not though and this is some helpful reminders to keep in mind when you meet someone new. There are several types of handshake styles, only one is acceptable though. They are: the vise grip handshake, the cold fish, the bone crusher, the water pump, and the socket wrench.

Which handshake style are you? Let’s take an in-depth view of each one.


Handshake Etiquette

From Flickr
From Flickr

The Vise Grip Handshake.  This style of handshaking is the most common and most widely accepted way to shake hands.  When meeting a new person, someone with confidence and someone who feels equal will shake hands with the vise grip handshake.  Simply put, this handshake allows for both contributors to be equal.  It starts anywhere from right in front of the person to all the way across the room.  Whichever it is its unimportant.  Each hand will fit perfectly into the other, thumb web to thumb web.  Then a measured amount of pressure—or squeeze—is applied.  It can be a lot, or it can be moderate.  Overall this handshake is perfect for man or woman.

The Cold Fish Handshake.  This handshake is the one that everyone dreads getting.  It is almost like getting the short straw to see who’s going to plunger the backed up toilet, or spinning the bottle to end on the ugly undesirable person in the circle.  I am a cruel and evil person sometimes as I hate the cold fish handshake.  This handshake is where one person puts his or her hand in the others and just lets it dangle there like a cold fish. 

I have to tell on myself here, I met a guy who was dating a girl that my wife knew.  This guy was a cold fish(er) and when I shook hands with him upon initial meeting, he did the cold fish to me.  Arrghh!!  I thought just by looking at him that he was a vise guy, I was wrong.  When he put his hand in mine I figured he would squeeze so I squeezed.  I then heard his knuckles crack.  “Oh no,” I thought.  He was cool about it though and didn’t wince or cry out.  I felt bad because I accidentally ground his bones to dust in that shake.

Be very careful when handshaking to avoid injure to yourself or to others.

The Bone Crusher.   This handshake is also feared by many.  This is the guy who has too much confidence and wants to dominate you.  You are put into a dangerous situation when someone bone crushers you.  Refer to above example.  I did this by accident and immediately upon hearing (feeling) his bones break I loosed the grip.  The bone crusher hand shaker will not do this.  They are unrelenting in their quest for power and dominance.  A helpful tip to deal with these people when they crush your hand is, “Ow, geez man that hurts.  What are you trying to do, crush my hand?”  They will immediately release the pressure because they don’t want to be made a fool.  Or you could get into a power struggle with them by squeezing back as hard as you can, most often though you won’t get the chance to do this.

The Water Pump.  In every hand shake there are a prescribed “acceptable” number of pumps.  That number is generally three.  When someone who is a water pumper gets a hold of you they will pump your arm as if you will spit water out of your mouth.  Most of the time, a water pumper will pump your hand anywhere from seven to ten times.  When they are finished pumping they’ll generally hold onto your hand until you work it out of there, usually by pulling away forcefully.

The Socket Wrench.  This handshake is very much the same as the water pump; however, the pumps are in and out as opposed to up and down.  Most often the socket wrench handshake is achieved when the shaker pulls the shake into their territory then commences to push them backward.  This move is performed by power players in an attempt to get the shake off balance and in the shakers zone.  You could get injured in this form of handshake.

One more type of handshake not mentioned above is the finger grab.  The finger grab usually happens by accident but is not often relinquished for a better handshake.  I personally hate it when someone grabs my fingers in a handshake and I instantly dislike the shaker.


Tips To Correct Bad Handshakes

 Now that we’ve discussed the types of handshakes lets now discuss how to fix problem shaking formats and bad shakers.

  1. Whenever you go to shake someone’s hand be armed for any situation because you never know the style they’ll use.

  2. If they give you the cold fish, give them a squeeze enough to be registered and they can recognize the need for them to squeeze a little.

  3. If they are a bone crusher, say what I said in that paragraph.  This will disarm them and make the docile once more.

  4. If they water pump you, as soon as you realize they are doing it stop them by reversing their pumps.  If they go up—go down.  If they go down—go up.

  5. The only way to avoid a socket wrench is to step into their handshake with your feet planted.  If they get you off balance just grab their elbow with your left hand to stop the violence.  If they don’t understand or don’t stop, the elbow has a nice pressure point conveniently positioned for you to apply pressure to.  That will make them stop.

  6. The fingertip grab is usually a mistake and can be easily corrected by grabbing the shakers hand with your left hand and placing your hand in the correct position.  You could also say, “Let’s try that again.”

Men, one important thing to remember when shaking a ladies hand is that she doesn’t want a cold fish.  She also doesn’t want her hands crushed or the ligaments in her wrist pulled apart.  Give her a gentle yet firm handshake.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 2 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      There was a time when hand-shaking was a perplexing custom for me. Now I am old enough that it doesn't really matter, it is easier to just act natural. I pretty much stick to a firm but short pressure on the hand. It need not be competitive.

    • profile image

      Johnf203 3 years ago

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    • profile image

      Pippa 4 years ago

      I keep getting the half handshake and really wish I knew what it meant. In some situations it can be really lovely but, if it goes on for an hour, it gets a little creepy. The last time I was actually flirting with the guy and then he chooses that handshake! Interesting.

    • profile image

      Ploeggie 5 years ago

      Donot shake hands with gloves on.

    • profile image

      Me 6 years ago

      I try for the gentle and firm approach to my handshake with eye contact and a sincere smile. I think it shows both self and mutual respect. But I have on occasion been told I have a strong grip which made me feel that I was being accused of attempted bone crushing. I certainly don't want to bone crush, as I dont like bone crushers. Generally, I maintain a firm palm, and aim the web of my thumb into the web of the other person's thumb, and then I give a gentle but firm squeeze. I dont like when some people grasp at my fingers, it makes me think they are over eager, or those who cold fish and or pull away instantly. It makes me feel they are being snobby. I was in a job interview where I was spekaing to a panal of interviewers, and everyone shook my hand normally except for one. He looked away almost mechanically as he extended his left hand. To this day I have no idea what that was about. Some sort of test, or he just didn't like me or what.

    • profile image

      Nukegallo 6 years ago

      Great advice fr people, especially those "wet fish" fools, or as I say "limp-its", hate limp wrists with a passion. I am a strong firm handshake guy, but you kinda missed out my favourite handshake... "The locksmith" basically the thumb grab, nice and tight, and brought up to the shoulders as you lean in. Not so good in a formal situation as I once found out lol but still ended getting the job. A few of my mates have their own styles too, one likes to initiate the fist bump, but then grabs the others fist and shakes like a mad man, confuses the hell outa them lol and another loves the old arm shake, either grabbed at the wrists or at the elbows. Lol

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 6 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Alanuk: That will happen especially with doctors, you got to go in for the shake light and equalize the pressure. That's how I do and it always works out, sometimes though I squeeze harder than the fellow shaker but just to let them know that they need to equalize me.

    • profile image

      Alanuk43 6 years ago

      Had to laugh, I saw my doctor this morning, he put his hand out to shake, when I shook his hand I think I crushed his little finger as I heard it snap. I am not a crusher but firm.

    • profile image

      boodles 7 years ago

      Plus there's two-handed shakes where you use the other hand to touch the person's forearm to show you're *really* glad to see them.

      But it's a trap! My karate teacher did that all the time because your hand's right over the nerve point in the arm.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 7 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thank you robin for your comment as I tend to agree with the points you brought up. I also do not offer my hand in greeting to women, I let them initiate the contact as it prevents an incidental offense. I think you are saying we should go into a bow like the japanese do. This would be fine but it would take generations to start doing this. Again thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Robin H 7 years ago

      Thank you dohn121 15 months ago who wrote:

      "When learning about etiquette, I was taught to not shake a woman's hand unless she offers it first."

      I was taught the same thing and when someone offers me their hand I tend to think of it as rude or ignorant. And, like Monk, I think of the germs and believe we should abandon this archaic tradition entirely.

      Did you notice that last year when people were concerned about the Swine flu we had fewer colds and other viruses because people were more conscious of sanitation.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thanks for reading and commenting Tom T.

    • Tom T profile image

      Tom T 8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Terrific Hub. Good business 101 info. Love many of the comments as well. Thanks.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thank you for commenting no one, you bring up some good points here.

    • profile image

      No-one 8 years ago

      You may also want to watch the fellow that stands side-on (left side back), he is generally a lefty that is prepared to belt you up the side of the head with his strong hand.....yes, it does happen.

      The same applies to the fellow who keeps his free hand tucked close to his waist band or pocket (generally left side of body back and shielding).....he is armed.

      As for shaking the hand of a women who offers such....the handshake should be done by holding your own hand firm whilst applying no force to the women....there-by saying 'Yes I am a man, I know I am a man and I shall treat you with courtesy and respect....beginning with this show that I will not hurt or harm you".

      Anything else is unacceptable and extremely rude.....also, any man present is required to put said offender on his arse.

      Any who play the crushing game are told that I would like my hand back.......this is conveyed whilst keeping my left side of body back and shielding my left hand from view.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      GmaGoldie: Thank you for visiting this hub as well. Again your remarks are well received.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I just found this Hub - I am 98% complete on my communications hub on hand shakes. I have bookmarked and will link back to you. Wonderful Hub - very critical subject!

    • profile image

      Jesse 8 years ago

      You forgot the Grecian Handshake, in which the person grabs your forearm and expects you to do the same, as though checking for weapons.

      I always enjoy these, though they aren't necessarily the best for some situations.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Rania, I couldn't really tell you an accurate meaning based off of what you told me, however the one thing I can tell you from the information provided is that he accepted you socially. If he used both hands that is a more intimate type of handshake meaning he likes you. I hope this helps.

    • profile image

      rania 8 years ago


      Just want to ask that one time a gentleman shook my hand and he squeezing my handtwice and I feel embarrased and I was very shy.

      What does this mean?




    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 8 years ago from Tumkur

      good tips indeed!

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Ladybird: Nothing much more irritating than a limp wristed handshake, it shows weakness and a submissive nature.

      Crazd: Handshaking is a natural thing, I like to experiment with the handshake styles with people I know. They all react pretty much the same way with each one.

    • profile image

      Crazdwriter 8 years ago

      Wow I didn't know that there were so many differnet kinds of handshakes. I knew about the first two but not the rest. Graet and informative hub. Hope I can to the handshake the right way. :-)

    • Ladybird33 profile image

      Ladybird33 8 years ago from Fabulous USA

      Fantastic hub, this is awesome and so true. I tell all my employees, firm handshakes are critical (some of the girls do girlie handshakes) and it drives me crazy.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thank you everyone for the wonderful comments

    • Drew Breezzy profile image

      Drew Breezzy 8 years ago from somewhere in my mind

      Cold fish I will have to remember that haha!

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S Jain 8 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Mine is the The Vise Grip Handshake. I did not know a confident and firm handshake is called that. Thanks for sharing.

    • lokoyizone profile image

      lokoyizone 8 years ago

      very nice write up.

      Anytime i get a weak handshake

      from someone i get the impression

      that either the person is weak and

      insecure or that the person does

      not like me.

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      I'm about as "post-women's movement" as women can be, but I've never felt comfortable shaking hands. It just doesn't seem (here comes a word from another era) ladylike to me. It also seems phony. I've had times when it isn't even my instinct to reach back if someone reaches out to shake hands. Instead, I'll do a little "head nod thing" that seems more natural and genuine. The world is full of phony hand-shaking and smiles. I like something more genuine.

      Besides, to concur with what someone else said about the tv character, Monk; I'm just not a fan of increasing the chances of spreading germs for no good reason.

    • profile image

      sneakorocksolid 8 years ago

      Hey Wesley! Great Hub! Handshakes are important statement about who you are. I've had a bone crusher from a German jet engine mechanic. I'm a big guy and he was my size. When he latched on I could tell he wanted to see what I was made of. Well I gripped back until he released my hand with a laugh. He bought me a beer and was quite the host. My hand was sore for days, no one had ever done that to me before and it hurt.

      I have a warning, never shake someones hand in the bathroom, germs aside, its just weird. I also refuse to shake any mans hand that smells like lotion. Peace.

    • Cls1321 profile image

      Cls1321 8 years ago

      nice hub =)

    • Green Is Good profile image

      Green Is Good 8 years ago

      Excellent! What about those handshakes that suddenly transform into a hug? You know when you think you are about to shake somebody's hand and they kind of pull you in, like a tractor beam? I wonder what that would be called, the Invasion of Personal Space Handshake perhaps?

    • profile image

      Judith Scott 8 years ago

      To answer Susan's question about a name for the two-handed handshake, which she said she likes to use to show "loving kindness," I would recommend calling it the "Linus Blanket


      For several years I taught various courses at a business college. In one class called Career Planning I concentrated on the correct ettiquette for shaking hands. Good for you, Wesley, the handshake can make or break a person as a possible candidate for a job! Not enough can be said on this subject!

    • profile image

      Susan 8 years ago

      Enjoyed descriptions of all the handshakes. There is one you did not mention. I use it often. Probably women sue it more than men use it. If you are wanting to convey loving-kindness to someone you take hold of the hand firmly but gently, convey a loving expression through that hand while placing your other hand on top of the two shaking hands, also conveying loving-kindness. Go a name for that one???

    • trivedi88 profile image

      trivedi88 8 years ago from INDIA

      It's really nice, very good, i like "The Vise Grip Handshake" style.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thank you brian and Rik the traffic for this hub jumped 68,000% last night. It is weird but also very cool.

    • Rik Ravado profile image

      Rik Ravado 8 years ago from England

      Well written, interesting hub - you have an unusual numbers of non-hubbers commenting - another indication you are getting high levels of external traffic - well done!

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thanks for visiting Earnest and thanks for commenting.

    • BrianFanslau profile image

      BrianFanslau 8 years ago from Eagan, MN

      Fantastic! love your view on handshakes and the great descriptions of each! Crazy how this hub is going so strong :) truly amazing.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I have also found that handshakes vary from place to place. I prefer a firm handshake as it is most common in my culture, but have to settle for other ideas when traveling or working in Asia where it is fairly uncommon.

      I do not mind the crushers, as I have very strong hands from fencing as a kid, and crush em to bits if they try!

    • profile image

      Nels 8 years ago

      It depends on where you are in the world. Firm handshakes are great in the US, Europe or Singapore. However, in India, Malaysia, etc a very gentle handshake is the way to go.

    • profile image

      Cleo 8 years ago

      You see, that's why Europeans and Americans can learn so much from Asian rituals. It's so much easier just to bow and show respect! Plus NO GERMS!

    • profile image

      Regina 8 years ago

      I generally use a firm handshake, but will cold-fish people that I don't like, hoping they catch my drift.

      And if you think the Bone-Crusher is painful. Try receiving one from a woman wearing six large rings who is interviewing you to fill her position. Very rude.

    • profile image

      TR 8 years ago

      A very important part of a good handshake is eye contact. Meeting eyes in a deliberate, warm, but not aggressive way adds confidence and personality to the greeting. A friendly smile is usually appropriate.

    • profile image

      Sandra Chappell 8 years ago

      Wesley... just a tip regarding grammar in this piece. The phrase "when shaking a ladies hand"... should be "lady's hand" (possessive, not plural).

    • profile image

      jose manguera 8 years ago

      don't forget to look em in the eye, you forgot the most important thing!

    • profile image

      Travelducky 8 years ago

      Great synopsis! I would also add that looking someone directly in the eye is a critical part of a complete and correct handshake.

    • profile image

      handshaker 8 years ago

      What about the "half handshake" from men to women - They grab only half of the hand for a light squeeze- in a careful fashion to not 'hurt' her. 'Careful or she'll break' kind of vibe. Seems that a Victorian bow should accompany it.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image 8 years ago

      You forgot the wet pond hand shake. lol Its when a man shakes your hand and his hand is wet from sweat and limber like a leaf yuk! gross lol

    • profile image

      flyeagle1996 8 years ago

      I also knew an aquaintance that would turn Your hand so it was under his closest to the ground, another way of trying to show his superiority over the other person.

    • profile image

      CG 8 years ago

      Good descriptions. I have met all those types, and once met the queen of the cold fish shake. On a second occasion, I tried to hand her a colder fish: no reaction! I was amazed and further disgusted. I opted to avoid shaking from that point on.

    • profile image

      Lois  8 years ago

      The women I know don't even like to shake hands. Women worry about where that hand has been, like Monk, they carry cleansing tissues when in a hand shaking party or conference.

    • profile image

      gloria 8 years ago

      I like a firm hand shake myself.

    • profile image

      Ghost32 8 years ago

      Wesley, these are great terms for the various handshake types. I'll mention two I've encountered.

      1. A cold fish from the adoptive father of a beautiful, highly intelligent, teenaged girl who was in trouble, mostly for blatant promiscuity. The so-called Dad had not molested her--he had avoided showing her any emotion whatsoever, as perfectly demonstrated by his fishy fingers.

      2. A bone crusher from a friend, a 6' 6" alcoholic Irishman who had latched onto me as his guru or some such. We shook hands every time we met--his drunken routine--and while I have enough hand strength and technique to avoid being truly "crushed", the outside bone (blade edge) in my hand finally told me enough was enough (after a few weeks of this).

      Like you say, simply telling him straight out that he was going to eventually bruise or even break that bone was more than enough to get him to ease up.

    • wesleycox profile image

      wesleycox 8 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      Thank you everyone for the comments.

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 8 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      This is great. My father raised to me "shake hands like ya mean it! " and I've taught my son the same. No hand pumping and no wet fish. If someone gives me the wet fish, I'll grab on with both hands and say "Lets do this right!" LOL!

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Funny and informative hub, Wes! When learning about etiquette, I was taught to not shake a woman's hand unless she offers it first. Once a completing a business transaction, I for some reason offered my hand to a Hasidic Jewish woman and she glared at me as if I was trying to make a pass at her! BTW, NEVER shake a Hasidic Jewish woman's hand unless you're her husband!

      I also wanted to mention that a handshake says a lot about a man (I believe that with women, handshake analysis is irrelevant). I always look for eye contact from the guy and a quick but firm two-pump. That's just me, however.

    • profile image

      JJ (Pachuca213) 8 years ago

      My dad always said you can tell alot about a person from their handshake. A nice firm, confident handshake does nicely....not too firm though but sometimes I don't realize my own strength! LOL =) Definitely NO COLD FISH!

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I don't like the cold fish type handshake give me a nice firm handshake anytime

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 8 years ago from On New Footing

      I had always been told to beware of people with a weak handshake. I always make it a point to have a firm handshake myself.


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