What Does Shaking Hands Symbolize? Understanding the Significance of the Handshake

When it comes to human interactions, facial expressions and body language can say a lot about how someone is feeling. However, one physical act that can convey a sense of trust and respect is shaking hands. This simple yet powerful gesture has been around for centuries and is still widely used today to greet someone or seal a deal. But what does shaking hands symbolize exactly?

To begin with, shaking hands can signify a desire to establish a connection with someone. It is a way to break the ice and establish a sense of familiarity or friendship with another person. When two people shake hands, they are essentially saying, “Hello, I acknowledge your presence and I am willing to engage with you in a respectful manner.”

Moreover, shaking hands also serves as a sign of trust and respect. In business settings, it is a common way to seal a deal or confirm an agreement. By shaking hands, both parties are demonstrating that they are committed to honoring their word and following through on their promises. In a broader sense, shaking hands can symbolize a willingness to work together and collaborate towards a common goal. It is a gesture that speaks volumes about one’s character and integrity.

Origin and History of Shaking Hands as a Gesture

The act of shaking hands has become such a normalized gesture for greeting, bidding farewell, and congratulating that we seldom think of its origins and rich history. The custom of shaking hands dates back to ancient civilizations, particularly in Greece, where it was used as a sign of peace and mutual respect between two individuals. Additionally, it was predominantly a male-only custom that served as an acknowledgment of equal status and mutual agreement.

The practice of shaking hands, however, only became popularized in the Western world relatively recently as a result of the introduction of chivalry in the medieval period. Men used to shake hands to show that they had no weapons and meant no harm to one another. Shaking hands had a practical function, helping to establish agreement and trust when two people engaged in a contract or pact. Since then, handshaking has become a way to show respect, trust, and goodwill among people.

Over the years, with globalization and increased communication, shaking hands has become a universal symbol of welcome, respect, and mutual agreement. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a temporary halt to this tradition, it remains an essential aspect of our social interactions and will, without a doubt, continue to play a significant role in our daily lives once the virus is contained.

Cultural significance of shaking hands in different societies

The simple act of shaking hands has a vast range of cultural significance across different societies. In some societies, it is customary to shake hands with both hands or to grasp the forearm in addition to the hand, while in others, handshakes are exchanged with a bow or a nod of the head. Here are some examples:

Variations of handshakes in different societies

  • In Japan, the custom of shaking hands is less prevalent, and people instead prefer to bow to one another as a way of showing respect.
  • In Western cultures, a firm and quick handshake is perceived as a sign of confidence and assertiveness, while a limp or weak handshake is often seen as a sign of weakness or lack of confidence.
  • In some Middle Eastern societies, like in Saudi Arabia, it is customary for men to grasp hands and then touch each other’s cheeks three times as a sign of friendship and respect.

Shaking hands as a sign of trust and respect

Shaking hands is a common practice around the world as a way of showing respect and trust. In many cultures, handshakes are a prerequisite to the commencement of any business or social interaction, and it is often seen as an indicator of the trustworthiness of the person.

The simple gesture of shaking hands has been shown to have a significant influence on people’s perception of each other. For example, in a study conducted by the University of Alabama, it was discovered that the longer a handshake lasted, the more positive the impact it had on the perceived character and personality of the person.


Shaking hands is a fundamental part of most cultures around the world. It is a symbol of respect, trust, and friendship. While the way in which people shake hands can vary across societies, the underlying meaning and significance of the act consistently remain the same.

Country Handshake Custom
Japan Bowing to one another
Saudi Arabia Grasping hands and touching cheeks three times
Western Cultures Firm and quick handshake

Ultimately, the significance of shaking hands is rooted in the human need for connection and trust. In today’s globalized world, it is more important than ever to understand and appreciate the customs and traditions of other cultures to facilitate mutual respect and cooperation.

Psychological aspect of shaking hands

Shaking hands has been deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions for centuries. It is a universal gesture of goodwill and is one of the most basic forms of human interaction. The physical act of shaking hands is simple, but it can carry a lot of psychological significance and can reveal a lot about a person’s character, personality, and intentions.

  • Trust and confidence: Shaking hands is often associated with building trust and confidence between two people. A firm handshake with eye contact can convey that you are trustworthy and confident in yourself and your abilities. This is why a weak or limp handshake can be interpreted as a lack of confidence or trustworthiness.
  • Social status and power: In many cultures, the strength and style of the handshake can reflect a person’s social status or hierarchy. For example, a dominant or powerful person may use a firm, aggressive handshake to assert their authority and dominance over someone else. Alternatively, a person of lower social status may use a softer, more deferential handshake to show respect and deference.
  • First impressions: Handshakes are often the first physical interaction we have with a new acquaintance or business associate. A good handshake can make a positive first impression that can set the tone for the rest of the relationship. On the other hand, a bad handshake can leave a negative first impression and be difficult to overcome.

Studies have shown that a good handshake can have a real impact on how people perceive you. A 2000 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that a good handshake can lead to a more positive evaluation of the person shaking hands, regardless of their actual performance or background information.

It’s important to note that cultural differences can also affect how people perceive and interpret handshakes. For example, in some cultures, it is not considered appropriate for men and women to shake hands. Being aware of these cultural differences can help you avoid misunderstandings and ensure that you are using the appropriate body language in different situations.


Overall, shaking hands is a powerful tool for communication and connection. It can convey trust, confidence, and respect, and it is an important part of building relationships in both personal and professional settings.

Strength of handshake Interpretation
Strong and firm Confident, trustworthy, and authoritative
Weak or limp Lack of confidence, nervousness, or lack of interest
Aggressive Dominant or seeking to assert power or control
Too long or too brief Impatience, discomfort, or awkwardness

By mastering the art of shaking hands, you can enhance your personal and professional relationships and make a positive and lasting impression on those you meet.

Famous people who refuse to shake hands

Shaking hands is a common social gesture that has been used for centuries to establish trust, respect, and goodwill. However, not everyone is comfortable with it, and some famous people have even publicly stated their dislike of it. Here are some well-known personalities who refuse to shake hands:

  • Mark Zuckerberg – The Facebook CEO famously avoids shaking hands because he thinks it’s germy, according to a report by Business Insider. Instead, he prefers giving people a fist bump or a high-five.
  • Donald Trump – The former U.S. President has been known to refuse to shake hands in certain situations, particularly when he thinks the other person might be sick or contagious.
  • Bill Gates – The Microsoft co-founder has also been known to avoid handshakes due to his fear of germs. According to a report by the New York Times, he once told a reporter that he doesn’t shake hands with anyone, except for his wife and children.

There are also some cultural and religious reasons why some people may choose not to shake hands. For instance, in Muslim culture, it is customary for men and women to refrain from shaking hands with each other, and to instead greet each other with a verbal greeting.

In addition, people with certain medical conditions such as severe eczema or psoriasis may also avoid shaking hands to prevent spreading infections or exacerbating their conditions.

Famous Person Reason for Refusing Handshakes
Mark Zuckerberg Thinks it’s germy
Donald Trump Avoids shaking hands in certain situations
Bill Gates Fear of germs

It’s important to respect people’s preferences and boundaries when it comes to physical contact, and to always ask for consent before initiating any kind of physical touch. If you’re unsure whether someone wants to shake hands, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and simply greet them verbally or with a friendly wave.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Shaking Hands

Shaking hands has long been a widespread custom to greet and show respect to others in different cultures and social settings. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the act of shaking hands has taken on a new meaning and raised concerns about the spread of the virus. In this article, we will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on shaking hands and explore its evolution in the future.

  • 1. Reduced handshaking: One of the most obvious impacts of COVID-19 on shaking hands is the reduction of this custom in everyday life. With social distancing and hygiene measures becoming a part of the new normal, many people feel uncomfortable or fearful in shaking hands with others, even in formal or business settings. The handshake has been replaced with alternative greetings such as waving, bowing, or doing elbows or feet bumps.
  • 2. Symbolism: The symbolism of shaking hands has also been affected by the pandemic. While the handshake has traditionally been associated with trust, confidence, and sincerity, it can now be perceived as a sign of disrespect or disregard for public health and safety. At the same time, not shaking hands can be interpreted as a sign of caution, responsibility, and respect for others’ well-being. The way people respond to shaking hands, or the lack of it, can reveal their attitudes and values towards the pandemic and public health.
  • 3. Cultural differences: The impact of COVID-19 on shaking hands also varies across different cultures and contexts. In some cultures, such as Western and Middle Eastern cultures, shaking hands is a common and expected part of social interaction, business deals, and diplomacy. In other cultures, such as East and South Asian cultures, bowing or Namaste is more prevalent and recognized as a way of greeting and showing respect. The pandemic has challenged the cultural norms and expectations of greeting and communication, and has forced people to adapt or modify their behaviors accordingly.

The following table shows some of the alternatives to shaking hands that have emerged during the pandemic:

Greetings Description
Waving A friendly gesture to acknowledge and greet someone from a distance.
Bowing A formal or respectful gesture, common in many East Asian cultures.
Namaste A gesture of respect and prayer, common in many South Asian cultures.
Elbow bump A contactless and fun alternative to shaking hands, popular among friends and colleagues.
Foot bump A playful and novel way of greeting, made popular by some athletes and celebrities.

In conclusion, the impact of COVID-19 on shaking hands goes beyond the physical act of touching. It has challenged our cultural norms, our social conventions, and our symbolic meanings of communication and respect. Whether we will return to shaking hands in the future or adopt new forms of greeting and communication remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of hygiene, social responsibility, and adaptation to change.

Etiquette of shaking hands in business settings

Shaking hands is a common gesture of greeting and respect in business settings. However, there are certain etiquette rules that one should follow to make a good impression on the other party. Here are some tips for shaking hands in a professional setting:

  • Initiate the handshake: As a general rule of thumb, it is best to initiate the handshake when meeting someone. This shows confidence and respect.
  • Firm grip: A firm grip is important, but not too strong that it causes discomfort. A weak handshake can be seen as a lack of confidence or interest.
  • Eye contact: Maintain eye contact while shaking hands as it shows confidence and sincerity. Avoid looking away or down as it can be perceived as a lack of interest or even dishonesty.

Besides these basic rules, there are also cultural differences to consider when shaking hands in a business setting. For example, in some cultures, a light handshake is preferred, while in others, a strong grip is expected. Therefore, it is important to research the customs and traditions of the other party before the meeting to avoid any unintentional offense.

Furthermore, with the current pandemic situation, there is a growing concern about the spread of germs through handshakes. Companies are now adopting ‘no handshake policies’ to prevent the spread of disease. In such cases, it is best to respect the other party’s decision and greet them with a smile or a nod instead.

Culture Handshake style
American Firm grip, one or two pumps
Japanese Light grip, brief handshake
Middle Eastern Strong grip, prolonged handshake
Indian Light grip, slight bow

In conclusion, shaking hands is an important aspect of business etiquette and can convey a lot about one’s character and approachability. By following the basic rules of initiating the handshake, firm grip, and eye contact, one can make a positive first impression. It is also important to research the cultural customs of the other party and adapt accordingly. With the ongoing pandemic situation, it is best to respect the other party’s decision and find alternative ways to greet them without compromising on mutual respect.

Different types of handshakes (e.g. firm, limp, double-handed, etc.)

When it comes to handshakes, there are many different types, each with its own subtle meaning. From the firm and confident to the weak and hesitant, the way you shake someone’s hand can say a lot about you. Here are some of the most common types of handshakes:

  • The firm handshake: This is the classic handshake that conveys confidence, strength, and professionalism. A firm grip communicates that you are enthusiastic and ready to do business.
  • The limp handshake: A limp or weak handshake can communicate a lack of confidence or an unwillingness to engage. It can come across as insincere or unenthusiastic.
  • The double-handed handshake: This is a warm and friendly gesture that conveys sincerity and trust. The double-handed handshake is often used in situations where there is a pre-existing relationship or partnership.
  • The finger-tip handshake: This is a type of handshake where you only touch the other person’s fingertips. It can come across as hesitant or timid and is often seen as a sign of nervousness or discomfort.
  • The bone-crushing handshake: This type of handshake is overly aggressive and can make the other person feel uncomfortable or intimidated. It can come across as arrogant or domineering.
  • The one-handed hug: While not technically a handshake, this is a friendly embrace that conveys warmth and affection. It is often used in casual or social situations.
  • The fist-bump: This is a casual and informal greeting that is often used between friends or colleagues. It conveys a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect.

Remember, it’s important to be aware of the type of handshake you are giving and receiving, as it can have a big impact on how you are perceived. A firm, confident handshake can help you make a positive first impression, while a weak or hesitant one can leave the other person feeling unsure or unimpressed.

Here’s a table summarizing some of the different handshakes:

Handshake Type Meaning
Firm handshake Professionalism, confidence, strength
Limp handshake Timidity, lack of confidence, insincerity
Double-handed handshake Sincerity, warmth, trust
Finger-tip handshake Hesitancy, nervousness, discomfort
Bone-crushing handshake Aggressiveness, arrogance, dominance
One-handed hug Affection, warmth, friendliness
Fist-bump Camaraderie, informality, mutual respect

Overall, the type of handshake you use should match the situation and the person you are greeting. By being aware of the different types of handshakes and their meanings, you can make sure that you are communicating the right message.

Alternative greetings to shaking hands (e.g. fist bump, namaste, bowing, etc.)

With the current situation of the world, shaking hands has become an unsafe practice as it is a physical contact with another person. However, in some cultures, shaking hands is still customary and considered polite. So, what can we do instead of shaking hands? Here are some alternative greetings to consider:

  • Fist bump: This greeting has gained popularity among sports stars and even former U.S. President Barack Obama. It involves bumping your closed fist with someone else’s closed fist.
  • Namaste: This traditional Indian greeting involves placing your palms together at chest level and bowing your head. It symbolizes respect and acknowledges the divine in one another.
  • Bowing: Bows are common in Asian cultures and can be executed in different ways. A full bow, with your upper body bending down, can show deep respect. A slight bow, with your head nodding, is a casual and simple way to show respect or gratitude.

But did you know that the number 8 is significant in Chinese culture? In ancient China, the number 8 was considered a lucky number because its pronunciation is similar to the word for “prosperity” or “wealth” in Chinese. So, creating a greeting that involves the number 8 would be a great way to demonstrate respect in Chinese culture. Here are some ideas:

Greeting Description
Double high-five with the hands forming the number 8 Both people raise both their hands and form the number 8 by touching their thumbs and index fingers together, then slapping their hands together
Flip an imaginary coin eight times Both people mime the act of flipping a coin eight times using their right hand, then tap their right fists together
Make the infinity symbol with both hands Both people hold out their hands and make the infinity symbol by crossing their index fingers and middle fingers and joining their thumbs and little fingers together. Then, they tap their hands together.

These alternative greetings may feel unconventional or unusual at first, but they are good alternatives to shaking hands that can show that you are considerate of other people and their culture.

Gender Differences in Shaking Hands

Shaking hands is a universal social gesture that can be traced back to ancient times. Though it is commonly used by both men and women, there are subtle gender differences in the way people shake hands. Here are a few of the most notable ones:

  • Pressure: Men are more likely to grip firmly and apply more pressure when shaking hands. This is often seen as a display of strength and confidence, and may be interpreted as a sign of dominance or aggression in certain contexts. Women, on the other hand, typically use a softer grip and less pressure.
  • Duration: Men also tend to hold their handshakes longer than women. This may be an attempt to establish trust and rapport, or it could be seen as a form of one-upmanship. Women typically keep their handshakes brief and to the point.
  • Body Language: Men often use more expansive body language when shaking hands, such as standing straighter, puffing out their chests, and making more direct eye contact. Women tend to be more understated in their body language during handshakes, and avoid prolonged eye contact, which can be seen as confrontational in some cultures.

It’s worth noting that these differences are not absolute, and there are certainly men who prefer a softer handshake and women who apply more pressure. However, studies have found that these gender differences in handshaking behavior are fairly consistent across cultures and social contexts.

Below is a table that summarizes some of the key differences between male and female handshake behavior:

Men Women
Pressure Firmer Softer
Duration Longer Briefer
Body Language More expansive More understated

In conclusion, handshaking is an important part of social interaction, and understanding the subtle differences in how men and women perform this gesture can help you navigate a variety of social situations with ease and confidence.

Handshakes in Politics and Diplomacy

In the world of politics and diplomacy, handshakes play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining relationships. Handshakes signify mutual respect, trust, and a willingness to work together towards a common goal. Politicians and diplomats use handshakes to convey a message of unity and goodwill to their counterparts, allies, and adversaries alike.

  • Negotiations: Handshakes are often used to signal the beginning and end of a negotiation. They indicate that all parties involved are willing to engage in a productive conversation, and that they are committed to finding a resolution through diplomacy.
  • Sign of Authority: Handshakes are also commonly used to convey authority and power. A strong, firm handshake is seen as a sign of confidence and leadership, and is often used by politicians and diplomats to establish their dominance in a given situation.
  • International Relations: Handshakes play a crucial role in international relations, as they often set the tone for meetings and negotiations between leaders of different countries. For example, the handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at the 2015 Summit of the Americas marked a significant step towards a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations.

Handshakes are not just a formality in politics and diplomacy, but rather an important tool for building relationships and achieving goals.

In addition to the traditional handshake, there are other forms of greeting that are commonly used in diplomatic circles as well. For example, the bow is a common greeting in many Asian cultures, while the cheek kiss is a common greeting in some European countries. These greetings signify cultural understanding and respect, and are often used to bridge the gap between different nations and cultures.

Country Typical Greeting
Japan Bow
France Cheek Kiss
India Namaste (Hands together in a prayer position)

Ultimately, handshakes and other forms of greeting play a vital role in politics and diplomacy. They signify respect, trust, and a willingness to work together towards common goals. Whether it’s a traditional handshake or a cultural greeting, these actions serve as a symbol of the relationships that are built between countries and leaders over time.

FAQs: What Does Shaking Hands Symbolize?

1. Why do we shake hands?

Shaking hands evolved as a way for people to show trust and respect towards each other. It has become a way of greeting, making introductions, and sealing deals.

2. What does a firm handshake mean?

A firm handshake symbolizes confidence, strength, and sincerity. It communicates that the person is trustworthy and capable.

3. Why is it rude to offer a limp handshake?

A limp handshake is often associated with weakness and insincerity. It can be interpreted as a lack of interest or enthusiasm in meeting the other person.

4. Is it appropriate to shake hands in all cultures?

No, shaking hands is not typically appropriate in all cultures. For example, in some cultures, bowing or simply nodding the head is more appropriate than shaking hands.

5. What does a double handshake mean?

A double handshake is a sign of great respect and appreciation. It is a gesture often used by politicians and public figures to show their admiration for each other.

6. Is it acceptable to refuse a handshake?

Yes, it is acceptable to refuse a handshake for religious or cultural reasons. It is important to communicate with the other person in a respectful manner to explain why a handshake is not appropriate.

7. What does it mean to kiss someone’s hand instead of shaking it?

Kissing someone’s hand is a traditional gesture of greeting and respect. It is typically used in formal situations, such as meeting royalty or other important figures.

Closing Thoughts on What Does Shaking Hands Symbolize

Thank you for reading about what shaking hands symbolizes. In a world where digital communication dominates, a firm handshake can still make a lasting impression. Whether you are sealing a business deal or meeting a new acquaintance, a handshake can communicate confidence, respect, and sincerity. Remember to use cultural and social cues to understand when a handshake is appropriate and to always show respect in your interactions. Thanks for stopping by and visit again soon!