Jan. 3: Shake Like a Man

Book 1: Relationships


Everything rises and falls on relationships.

–John Maxwell

Shake like a Man

“When you give a man a handshake, make sure it’s firm because it shows you’re a man.”

–John Groves

When I was a young teenager, Tubby and Agnes King moved to Dry Creek and joined our church. I soon learned a valuable lesson about Tubby. He had a vise-like handshake and would hurt your hand if you didn’t get a good grip.

I’d been taught how to shake hands like a man earlier in life. It’s a proactive, aggressive move where you ensure you get the webbed area between your thumb and forefinger right against the same part of the shakee, or fellow shaker’s hand. If you do this, you’ll get a firm grip, and guys like Tubby can’t squeeze your fingers like wringing a wet dishrag.

I don’t think Tubby King meant to hurt other men with his handshake. He was a fine man, but his handshake brought tears to a generation of Dry Creek men and boys.

His handshake was hurtful only if you didn’t know how to shake like a man. It’s a learned habit:

Extend your right hand in a friendly forceful manner, and give a firm handshake. It’s not a contest of the tightest grip, but men in the Louisiana Pineywoods (and much of the world) are judged by their handshake.

There’s no place for a dead-fish handshake in our culture. Just as a firm shake gives an impressive impression, a limp handshake gives the opposite impression. There’s no room in our culture for wimps or wimpy handshakes.

That handshake doesn’t have to be long or vertical. I’ve shaken hands with some fellows when I thought they were going to wrench one of my elbows out of its socket, shaking up and down.

But there is a part of a man’s handshake that doesn’t involve the right hand. In my world travels on missions, I’ve been introduced to several cultural variations on handshakes. On the African Continent, it’s common to place your left hand on your right forearm during the handshake. It shows that the shaker isn’t holding a weapon behind his back with the free hand. As we’d say, “Etu Brute’.”

I learned another handshake variation in Indonesia in the aftermath of the terrible 2004 Tsunami. I led a Louisiana medical team that ministered to the refugees from this century’s worst natural disaster. The Indonesian Sumatrans would shake my hand while patting their heart with their left hand, saying, “Thank you for coming in our time of need.” The hand to the chest was explained as their way of adding, “I am connected to your heart.” Coming from the deeply Muslim people of Aceh, I always took this symbolic gesture literally to heart.

Worldwide, the handshake is a symbolic feature of introduction and connection.

So, shake like a man. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to have a firm handshake. It’s just a matter of practice and technique.

It’s part of a good first impression. It can open doors to strong friendships, jobs, open doors, and opportunities of a lifetime.

So, shake like a man.

“A gentleman is always ready to offer a hearty handshake.”

How to be a Gentleman

–John Bridges

Discussion Questions:

For group study, these questions may be at the end of each chapter or in an endnote section at the end of the book.

  1. What qualities of a man are inferred in a hearty, firm handshake?
  2. What does the African two-handed handshake confer? When is it appropriate to do a two-handed handshake in American culture?
  3. What does the Indonesian heart-touch handshake convey? Why was it so touching to the author?

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