There's nothing new about handshaking. Archeological ruins from Ancient Greece show soldiers shaking hands on a piece of 5th-century B.C. pottery. It was meant as a show of peace; neither side carried weapons. Unfortunately, in later history, handshakes were seen as a way to determine if the other person had hidden a knife in his sleeve. Medieval knights--covered in armor--used handshakes as a way to sort a friend from an enemy. An extended open hand was a sign of friendship, while a hand with a weapon was...well, a signal to defend oneself.
The American handshake is simple to do, but important to perform well. Directions from etiquette expert Robin Bickerstaff Glover: "The right hand is extended, thumb up and palm flat. You grasp the other person's hand using a firm grip, with your palm on their palm. Hands are pumped two or three times in a vertical motion and then, you release the grip." The handshake should be firm and friendly; if you squeeze too hard, it seems aggressive. If you leave your hand limp or offer a weak grasp, it can signal anxiety or lack of confidence. Of course, you always look the other person in the eye when shaking hands.
When networking, remember that your handshake is the first impression you will make. Forbes Magazine reports the results of seven studies: "A handshake can improve the quality of an interaction, producing a higher degree of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds."
And a Fortune 500 CEO once said, "When I have to choose between two candidates with similar qualifications, I give the position to the candidate with the better handshake."
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"Handshake (Workshop Cologne '06)" by Tobias Wolter - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons