Dead Fish & Vice Grips

Recently at a networking event, I had the distinct displeasure of shaking hands with a dead fish and a pair of vice grips.

As a quick aside: limp-handshake

When you are at a networking event, first impressions count. From how you are dressed, to how you carry yourself, to the pitch of your voice, all of this goes into creating an impression when someone first meets you.

While I will address these facets of an impression in later blogs, this blog is specifically about handshakes and the long lasting impression that those can make.

Back to the networking event:

During the evening, I walked over to a group of people in which there was someone I knew. He kindly introduced me around the group. The first gentleman I did not know put out his hand to shake mine. When I took his hand, there was no grip. It was like having a cold, dead, clammy fish in my hand. I actually gripped his and had to do all of the work in this particular handshake. Please, try to imagine this and not cringe . . .

Not more than a few seconds later, after being a bit turned off by shaking hands with a cadaver, I was then introduced to a woman in the group who grabbed my hand with the force and strength of a vice grip and proceeded to pump it up and down with such vigor I had this mental image of someone priming an old fashioned water-pump.

It was between the dead-fish and the dislocated shoulder /crushed metacarpals that I decided to write this post.

When I was very young, my father imparted to me the importance of a great handshake. A great handshake begins when the web of your hand meets the web of another’s hand. The “web” is the span of space from the top of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. Once joined, grip firmly enough to hold but not to crush, shake several times while maintaining direct eye contact. Sounds surprisingly simple and yet, not always done.

Handshakes have the ability to convey confidence, poise, and capability. But they also have the ability to create wrong impressions as well. So I did a bit of research on the web to see what others had to say. There are more than 2 million results as to what handshakes may mean.

The Dead Fish: This type of handshake could convey a type of lackadaisical attitude, like you just don’t care about meeting the other person. On the other hand (pun intended) it could convey the fact that you are timid and frightened.

The Bone Crusher: This handshake says you are trying to dominate the other person, to show him/her how strong you are. Many men engage in this type of handshake to try to prove they are the “alpha-dog” in the situation; when a woman does this, it comes across as trying too hard to be in-charge.

The Politico: This is when you begin a traditional handshake and then one person covers the handshake with his/her left hand. While this handshake is meant to impart a caring about the other person, because politicians have been using this handshake for years it can come across as a phony display of sincerity.

The Finger-Tip: While I hate to be sexist here, this “handshake” is performed by way too many women. Instead of offering their hands to be shaken, they offer their fingertips.  This type of handshake conveys that one is weak and insecure; someone who lacks confidence. (In fact, the only time that this does not convey this meaning is if you are the Queen of your own country.  Then, by all means offer your finger-tips.)

The handshake is an important part of a first impression. Whether you are interviewing for a job, meeting a prospective client or reconnecting with a current one, the handshake is a gesture which says more than you can imagine.

As a post script, if you are working with an international clientele, or with clients who are from certain religious backgrounds, or even people who have an aversion to germs, they may not offer their hand for you to shake. For example, the religious beliefs of Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Islams prohibit contact with members of the opposite sex, thereby precluding handshakes between men and women. Certain European countries prefer kissing on each cheek as a greeting even in a business setting.

Please do not be offended or judge if someone doesn’t offer their hand for you to shake. There may be a reason. Just know that if they do, a lot of things could be said without saying a word.


  1. Jaimie:
    Very interesting, salient, and important observations. I find many men almost try too hard to impart strength, which leads to some odd bone-crushing situations. Kind of obvious, but for all sizes, shapes, and sexes, a handshake should be firm, sincere, and brief. Similar to writing, how one greets and is greeted depends greatly on the setting, mood, audience, purpose of the meeting, and even the time of day or time of year.
    Great reminders!

  2. Jaimie Field says


    Thanks for the comment. When I was doing the research on this I found out so much about how handshakes are perceived. It was very interesting and almost divided by gender. However, remember in the post the dead fish was a guy and the bone crusher was a woman…. interesting eh?

  3. I disagree about “shaking several times.” I like one strong (but not bone-crushing), firm shake, eye contact and a smile. When someone I don’t know well shakes my hand up and down, it can seem a little insincere and overly enthusiastic, and seems a little bit like a puppy wagging it’s tail (i.e., less likely to be taken seriously).

  4. Jaimie Field says


    Thank you for your comment. I fully agree with your assessment.

    However, when I wrote shaking “several times”, I did not mean pumping the hand up and down “like a puppy wagging it’s tail” and certainly not to continuously shake someone’s hand to dislocate a shoulder. However, I really appreciate the distinction you made that I didn’t. Thank you!



  5. Good tip.
    On the international dimension; There are cultures where men greet each other with a kiss on one or both cheeks. I have no issues with it myself one of my best friends is Persian that is his way(but you should have seen the looks when we greeted each other that way in the middle of the office!). Here in the UK a handshake is generally sufficient!

    Not sure I agree about the fingertip. Perhaps I am old fashioned but I generally am a little lighter on the grip with a woman. I also will let go a tadge sooner rather than risk being misunderstood.
    I had it happen once. Turns out she was waiting for me to let go and I was waiting for her! Everyone else thought we were practically getting married! Funny but phew!

    If you have had a reasonable amount of contact so that there is an existing relationship but perhaps little or no face to face you can use the “semi -hug” this is where your free hand is brought up to the persons upper arm at the same time as the shake.

    It conveys that the relationship has moved up a notch.

    I tend to use this with people that I like. My friends I greet with a hug anyway.

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