men compliment my handshake

A reader writes:

I’m hoping you can shed some light on the phenomenon I describe below. It doesn’t bother me in any real way, it’s just so recurrent and increasingly out of place that I’m curious if this is a common experience shared by professional women, young professionals, or all people with a good handshake. I’ve been feeling mildly patronized by it these past few years, and I’d like to know if that’s justified or not. For my own peace of mind, I just want to know if I get to be secretly mildly annoyed by this or if I can brush that invisible chip off my shoulder.

In my life it is an extremely frequent occurrence that men, after shaking my hand upon introduction, will immediately compliment me on my handshake. For the first few years, I figured that I got this so frequently because I started working in office/clinical environments in my late teens and it was a case of older professionals being pleasantly surprised and/or wanting to reinforce good behaviors in a young employee. I thought nothing more of the compliments than, “Huh, nice.”

Fast forward to today. I’m now 26 years old and employed as a traveling project implementer/manager. Incidentally, I love my job. Anyway, I’m almost a decade older than when I first entered the workforce and my current position is clearly (given my company’s relationship to our clients) the result of a series of promotions. However, the frequency of men commenting that I have a good handshake when we’re introduced has not diminished in the slightest. Also, it’s always men who give me positive feedback on my handshake; a woman has never once commented on my grip. In contrast, I just had a new contract meet and greet and I probably got a “nice handshake” comment from four or five men in the two days I was around.

It’s not a big deal at all, and it’s something I’d never bring up at work because it’s entirely a non-issue. But it’s odd, right? And as I’ve crept on in years and up the ladder somewhat, increasingly I’ve been feeling mildly patronized when it happens. It has never occurred to me to comment on the handshakes of people I meet at work (although I do think … things … about some, of course). I’m kind of wondering right now how a male client would react if, upon meeting, I shook his hand and said, “Good handshake.” It’s just weird. A non-issue, yes, totally, but I’d like to know from an experienced businesswoman: Am I getting these extremely frequent comments because I’m a woman or because I’m still relatively young? Or, alternatively, do men frequently respond this way to anyone who happens to have an excellent handshake, female/male/young/old/whatever and I can brush that chip off my shoulder?

It’s because you’re a woman, and it’s particularly because you’re a young woman. People are often patronizing to women of all ages, but young women get a particularly heavy share of it.

The subtext for complimenting a woman on her handshake is “good for you, doing a manly and thus impressive thing I didn’t expect of you.” It’s a patronizing head pat — a compliment that’s given mainly to kids and to grown women.

That’s not to say that the men doing the complimenting intend that as their message — but that does seem to be where it’s coming from, whether they’ve examined that or not. And that’s probably why it bothers you.

I crowdsourced this on Twitter to see if perhaps I was wrong about this and if men are in fact getting lots of compliments on their handshakes from other men. The response from men was mainly “never” or “rarely, and it’s a little weird when it happens” or “when I was 11 and shaking hands with my uncle.” The response from women was mainly “it happens to me a lot.”

So yeah. Add this the annals of weird handshake-related behavior, this time with a sexist twist.

{ 767 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Christy

    OP would it make you feel better in the moment to say “Back atcha” or “Thanks, I know” to the dude? I think for me, it might help me put a little bit of the awkwardness back on the dude without actually doing anything awkward.

    But this is annoying and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it.

    Reply
        1. Pineapple Incident

          Definitely how I pictured this as well – I think given repeated exposure to this weirdly sexist response to a woman’s strong handshake, this is the only way to do it properly.

          Reply
        2. Onyx

          “You, too, champ!” (Or “tiger” or other ridiculously stereotypical father-figure-talking-to-son-figure-about-being-a-man endearment of your choice) ;-p

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          1. AKchic

            “Kiddo”. Really ram home the idea of being a young’un. Even if the guy is 60 and bald, he’s a “kiddo”.

            Reply
    1. Rowan

      Yeah, I’d be tempted to reply “You too!” just to drive the point home that it’s a weird thing to say (and equalize the interaction).

      Reply
      1. EddieSherbert

        +1 I think this would be easiest if she wanted to address it. A light enthusiastic “you as well!” shouldn’t come across cocky or snippy or whatever (but still make it weird for them!).

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      2. Future Homesteader

        Although I’m all for being cocky about it, I think if you said “you too!” with sincerity, it would definitely throw them off, and as a bonus, not give them room to complain. You’re just returning the, totally normal, well-meant, not-at-all-sexist, entirely benign compliment! And if they find it weird, well…maybe they’ll think about that.

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      3. Catalin

        Do it! Shake hands, receive comment, look confidently into the person’s face, grin and say, “Thanks, you too!” Show no discomfort or awkwardness and repeat whenever needed.

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      4. Hey Nonnie

        +100. “You too!” perhaps even with a slight note of being pleasantly surprised and/or impressed.

        It has plausible deniability, too, so you can very pleasantly make your point (this is weird, dude) while not doing anything any different than he did. If he thinks it’s patronizing when you do it, he has to admit it’s patronizing when he does it, and maybe the lesson will stick. Subtle callouts FTW.

        I would SO do this, btw. Kill ’em with kindness.

        Reply
        1. Aurion

          Yeah, I’d think “pleasantly surprised”, “breezily”, or “bemused” is the note to take. Presumably the reason OP meets this many people is because she’s outward facing, and starting the interaction off with a “cocky”note isn’t really the note I’d want for professional business.

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        2. SheLooksFamiliar

          I’m a 50-something woman and I still get ‘compliments’ on my handshake – from men of all ages. I think I’ll try your approach if/when it happens again, thank you!

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          1. Suzy Q

            Me, too. And I find it to be ridiculously patronizing. Men who do it think they’re being “nice,” and I just want to junkpunch them. Clueless sexism is what it is.

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            1. Anonymoose

              I actually read a passage in a book about male handshaking and it’s the equivalent of determining who is the alpha in a social setting. I obviously can’t say if this is a legit metaphor for handshaking behavior, as a woman, but it does start to get some credibility when a woman has a strong handshake too. So maybe the ‘nice handshake’ is actually complimenting a woman ‘stepping up’ as alpha?

              I wish I could remember where I read that passage….or new of any studies about this phenomena!

              Reply
                1. Specialk9

                  Yeah, in fact that it’s the exact element we women already understand, and resent as sexist. “Oh hey I wasn’t thinking of you as an equal or person of status because I saw boobs. But hey you’re kinda approximating acting like a man, which makes me respect you for the first time in our interaction.” Stabby stabby.

              1. Hey Nonnie

                Well, the concept of “alpha male” is dubious itself. It’s not something that actually occurs in wolf packs (the study this idea was based on has since been debunked), and humans are not wolves in the first place.

                If men are trying to be “alpha,” through handshakes or otherwise, it’s entirely cultural (and probably based on ideas that fall squarely into “toxic masculinity”), and not something inherent to “how men are.”

                Reply
              2. GreenDoor

                Sure, men are conditioned to be impressed by a solid handshake. But then we’re back to the question of why only women actually get a verbal “compliment” on it. Unless he’s complimenting men on their great handshakes just as often, then it is, indeed, patronizing.

                Reply
                1. Women can shake hands too!

                  Honestly, I think this is happening because for some reason, it seems like so many women are often terrible at shaking hands properly. I suppose that sounds awfully generalizing, but it’s definitely been my experience throughout 20+ years of employment in predominantly-female-employee workplaces, as well as two colleges with predominantly female students and professors. And sadly I can’t remember the exact source, but I know I’ve read something about it as well.

                  Most of the time when I meet another woman and shake hands, it’s very, very loose and tentative, which I would understand more if I were a man, but I’m not. I could get that it might feel odd to just grab a random stranger man’s hand, and maybe some people think it feels odd to grab random stranger hands even if they are women too? I don’t know, but if I had a dollar for every time a woman just sort of gingerly touched her thumb and forefingers to mine instead of meeting palms with fingers firmly clasped around the hand, I wouldn’t need job hunting advice anymore because I’d be well off indeed!

                2. Specialk9

                  There have been several threads from people who have health reasons (eg autoimmune disorders) not to shake hands firmly, because it’s painful. People with autoimmune disorders are 75% female.

        3. Sketchee

          I love this and fully support mirroring their full surprised emotional reaction “Wow you too, you are really good at shaking hands” with as much kind sincerity as you can muster

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      5. CG

        Yes! Return that awkwardness to sender! If in a group, I’d be really tempted to bring others into the conversation… “You think that’s a great handshake? Check out Steve over here’s grip!”

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        1. Purplesaurus

          If you liked that, then you’ll enjoy placing your fingers into the mighty palms of ROY FROM IT! You’ll marvel at his seamless up-and-down technique.

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          1. Jadelyn

            Now I’m picturing a meet-and-greet with handshakes all around, accompanied by an infomercial voice-over. “But wait, there’s more! Once you’ve shaken hands with Roy, come meet both Dan and Arin. That’s two handshakes for the price of one!”

            Reply
      6. Samiratou

        I think I’d probably end up going with a slightly confused “…thanks?” by reflex.

        But I have not actually had my handshake complimented, so there’s that.

        Reply
          1. Hey Nonnie

            I haven’t either, but I did have a (male) hiring manager praise me for making eye contact in a job interview.

            I had already made eye contact during the introductions/handshakes, of course. The reason I hadn’t made eye contact recently enough for him was because of the universal human tendency to look up and to the side when engaging in acts of recall, and I was shockingly recalling relevant work-related stories for him to answer his questions and demonstrate my skills. You know, like you do in an interview.

            I was young enough then that I thought it was super weird and off-putting but couldn’t articulate why, and it planted that seed of self-doubt (did I really not make eye contact when I shook his hand?!), so I couldn’t figure out how to properly react and so I didn’t. It seems likely it was an intentional power move to put me off-balance. Turned out to be the first of many red flags that only became clear to me later. I didn’t financially have the option of turning down the offer, anyway.

            It was the interview equivalent of negging. :P

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      7. Triple Anon

        That’s what I tend to do in those kinds of situations. I’ve never gotten a handshake compliment, but I have gotten similar things. I usually give the person a surprised look and say, “Oh, thank you. You too.” The point being, “What you’re doing is weird, but I’ll try to be nice about it.”

        Reply
    2. First Time Caller

      I do this!! I get “nice handshake” a lot (I mean, humblebrag but my handshake *is* quite good), and my response is either a shit-eating grin with “Same to you!” orrrrr if I want to send a warning, just a bemused single eyebrow raise and direct eye contact. In my mind, it sends a message of, “Yes I know, so don’t eff with me.”

      I am a young Asian female in a traditionally male-dominated workplace. I have decided to take this patronizing attitude that others express, whether or not they are conscious of it, and use it as a tool. Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition to show up as a 5′ 2″ Asian female wearing sensible loafers. And yet here I am.

      Relatedly, I did hear two men talking to each other about handshakes, how they judged a (male) job candidate that day based on his bad handshake, and how they both prided themselves on good handshakes. I think the thought process and evaluation might always be there, but gets uttered more often at women.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        Definitely agree that it’s still used as a judgement tool between men. The difference is usually that men will only mention when other men have a bad handshake, while they usually only point out when women have good ones.

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      2. Hey Nonnie

        Have to say this: “Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition to show up as a 5′ 2″ Asian female wearing sensible loafers. And yet here I am,” makes me want to work with you forever.

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      3. Rennie

        I do the raised-eyebrow, full eye contact thing too. With a slight head tilt for good measure. At first it was merely an instinct; I was bemused at the odd complement and it showed on my face. Now I do it on purpose because seriously? no. It works well for other “wow you’re a girl but you did a boy thing and actually did it well so good job I’m impressed” situations too.

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      4. Mary

        I once observed an assessment centre for a graduate scheme, and there was a really fantastic candidate with a brutally hard handshake. There were three women on the decision-making panel and one man. Everyone mentioned his handshake, but the women were like, “haha, that handshake hurt, lol! Well, he’s a definitely yes, isn’t he?” The only man was absolutely resistant to hiring him, *based on his handshake alone*. He accepted that he was the strongest candidate, but he was so pissed off about this guy squeezing his hand so hard that he was willing to refuse giving him the job. In the end, he agreed to make the guy an offer, but said it had to be written in his notes that he needed to work on his handshake because no way was he going to be allowed to go out there and meet clients like that.

        I found it fascinating. All of us women noted it but just blew it off, but the only guy was *furious*. He totally saw it as a powerplay and he was extremely unhappy about it. I really wonder about that: I think all the woman recognised it as a powerplay, but we were just like, “yes, men do stupid stuff like that, you can’t do anything about it I guess.” It would never occur to me that you could actually *not hire* someone over that stuff, and I think a lot about why I think that.

        Reply
      5. Close Bracket

        > Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition to show up as a 5′ 2″ Asian female wearing sensible loafers.

        lol

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      6. Specialk9

        As a tall person, I am ALWAYS wary of the very short. In a fight, y’all tend to be faster, nimbler, and meaner. (Meant in the most admiring way)

        Reply
    3. blondie

      I get this “compliment” a lot as well. If it’s a work situation I just stomach it. However, I also encounter this in social settings such as meeting friends of friends or at some social event with lots of stranger.

      If it happens in a less formal situation I usually say, “Your’s isn’t so bad either.” Or if they guy was really behaving like a jerk, “Thanks, your’s could use some work.”

      Reply
    4. Rebecca in Dallas

      Haha, I also sometimes get compliments on my handshake, I think it’s because I am a young woman and also petite. I always say, “Thanks, you too.” And then just continue on with the conversation, I’m not sure whether it even registers for them in the moment. Plus it’s almost one of those cursory responses, like “Have a nice day!” “Thanks, you too.”

      Reply
    5. Marie

      Interestingly there was a woman who did an experiment where she responded to every compliment with “thanks I know” and a surprising amount of men got offended as if she had no right to value herself before they gave her a value.

      Reply
      1. Close Bracket

        There was another woman who started responding that way to compliments she got on a dating site. Oh my. The male tears.

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    6. SS Express

      “Thanks, you too!” is 100% the way I would respond to this weird-ass sexist compliment.

      I’m kinda tall and men often point this out to me. It’s not as offensive as the handshake thing, but something about “gosh, you’re tall” still feels annoying and a bit gendered to me. I guess because it’s just a fact – it’s not like I don’t already know that, it’s not like I’ll be especially flattered to have someone tell me a *fact* about myself, but for some reason men still expect me to be interested in hearing them say it? Anyway, I’ve taken to responding “Thanks for noticing!”, which draws attention to the fact that what they said is incredibly obvious and not really something I’d be interested to hear or flattered by.

      “You too” is the equivalent for handshake-complimenters, I think – highlights the weirdness of complimenting someone’s handshake, as well as the gendered assumptions that underlie it.

      Full disclosure: I have once complimented someone’s handshake. He was a man. It was just an amazing handshake. If I’d been single I would’ve made a move on him, so good was this handshake. Also we’d just been introduced at a party, it wasn’t in a business context!

      Reply
  2. I'm A Little TeaPot

    (not the OP) Follow up question – What can you do in the moment to shut it down, without negative consequences?

    Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          I am so glad my VP (who has the adjoining office to mine) isn’t here today. I’d hate to have to try to explain why I yelped with laughter.

          Reply
        2. AKchic

          I’ve said that. My mother smacked me. Total Gibbs slap. So worth it.

          I’ve worked mostly rough male-dominated jobs, and I sometimes don’t have a filter. I did not have a filter that day.

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    1. EW

      Nothing really. Ignore it? From my experience it happens once in your relationship and right at the “developing a new relationship” stage. Not worth risking the negative consequences for me.

      If it’s someone you mentor or have authority over I would consider saying “Handshakes aren’t something you should comment on.”

      Reply
      1. Cheeky

        Ignoring it won’t make the comments stop. I think men should be told to stop. You wouldn’t let other casual (or less) casual sexism slide, right?

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        1. EW

          I never said it would make the comments stop. If I stopped to address every instance of causal sexism/racism/able-ism/etc in my daily life I’d have no time for anything else! I choose my battles, and this just isn’t one of them. Partly because it occurs at a point in time when I don’t have an established relationship with someone. Once I have an established relationship, it’s much easier to address sexist remarks without damaging the relationship.

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          1. Anna

            I get what you’re saying, but I think this is a great time to establish that you’re not interested in their patronizing BS because you don’t have any relationship with them.

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            1. EW

              That’s definitely another way to look at it, and in a different industry it would be effective. I’ve found it’s much more effective for me to develop a relationship first and then push back on their biases. Otherwise I get written off by the person, and I’m not as effective at my job. And I get paid to do my job.

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        2. Tuxedo Cat

          YMMV, but I’m a young looking and young-ish woman in a male-dominated field. I have to pick my battles. That isn’t to say the letter writer or others shouldn’t say something, but for myself, my experience has been it’s better to point casual or “benign” sexism/racism/classicism (I get all of this, BTW) with people I already have an established relationship.

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        3. Specialk9

          You’re joking, right? You think women should address EVERY act of sexism we deal with? So… Then when would we get any work done?

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      2. Snark

        I think there’s a valid argument to be made that it’s not a hill to die on, and negative consequences are a major factor there. Nobody needs to die on a hill that’s not worth it. But there’s a case to be made for establishing and maintaining new and better norms, if that’s not an undue imposition of emotional labor or a social capital spending spree. A lot of guys who try not to be tools but who come from a culture that relentlessly encourages tooldom can learn a lot from a reminder to maybe not.

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      3. a different Vicki

        I wish your answer didn’t make sense as a tactical thing in some situations: men aren’t generally told they shouldn’t compliment a woman on her handshake, because it’s not worth the possible negative consequences right at the “developing a new relationship” stage. Sexism is sufficiently baked into the culture, still, that women are worrying about damaging the relationship by pointing out sexism–and told they should be cautious, if they aren’t worried about it already–but men aren’t worried that they will damage the exact same relationship by doing something sexist. They can get away with the microaggressions, because so many people think of them as normal.

        What we need isn’t “stop being sexist by vocally judging women, and only women, on this basically irrelevant thing,” even if that’s what we’re thinking. We need something like “Actually, my name is Elizabeth” to use when someone is introduced to Elizabeth by her full name and insists on calling her “Betsy” or “Beth” or “Lizzy”–or Emily.

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      4. Kas

        The handshake might only happen once, but it sets the tone for the rest of your interactions. If he’s patronising at your first meeting, it’s likely he’ll be patronising in general, and a no-nonsense response should shut that down at the outset. If not, it will at least provide a foundation for pushing back on future transgressions.

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      1. No Mas Pantalones

        “I was the valedictorian at the Handshake Academy for People with Vaginas, so….”

        I get the “good handshake” thing now and again too. I let it just roll off because it’s just so stupid. I get more offended when men offer me that fishy, limp handed thing because they’re expecting me to present my hand as such. I may or may not give a little bonus grip when it happens.

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        1. Snark

          “I was the valedictorian at the Handshake Academy for People with Vaginas”

          Damn, the commentariat is bringing the A-game today.

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              1. RabbitRabbit

                I was going to suggest the uterus/ovaries be placed as the mantling or similar “draped”/”underneath” decorations, but that’s obviously not correct as the whole point is “you’re a woman!!1” So that part has to be within the shield.

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            1. Lucky

              Too long for a bumper sticker for my husband’s car? “My Wife is on the Honor Roll at the Handshake Academy for People with Vaginas.”

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            1. Wanna-Alp

              Yep!

              It would be really nice to be able to provide visual appaluase for some posts without cluttering up the comments section!

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        2. SometimesALurker

          Of course the HAPV is cissexist. It would be. Also, the school acronym sounds like a disease. But being valedictorian there is a big honor, young lady.

          (This is one of those times when I’m snarking /with/ the people above but it could sound like I’m snarking /at/ you, so… I’m noting it so you don’t get the wrong impression. *awkwards my way out of the room*)

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          1. No Mas Pantalones

            “We here at the HAPV aim to be inclusive of everyone with a desire to improve her/his/their/zim/zyr handshake whilst celebrating whatever state of vagina-possession one may be in at any given time.”

            One does not have to be born with a vagina in order to have a vagina. To wit, I was born sans penis and yet, if you open a certain drawer in my bedroom….

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        3. Charlottemousse

          Back when I was in middle school, I went to take-your-daughter-to-work-day at one of my parent’s workplace, and a very memorable “course” we had was to learn how to do handshakes and a demonstration of the dead-fish handshake! It cracked a bunch of us up about this dead-fish handshake that we’d never heard of, and to this day, I cringe when I’m on the receiving end of a dead-fish handshake…

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    2. miyeritari

      Especially if this is happening with each man individually, I feel like you’re out of luck, which sucks! Even if you tell one person they’re being casually sexist, they’re not going to report ‘Don’t tell Karen she has a nice handshake,’ and if they do, it’s not going to cast you in a good light.

      Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I sometimes like to look at them askew with false confusion and say, “Is there a different way to shake someone’s hand?” and then let them explain why they’re being an ass. I just treat them like a rare zoo creature, and let them dig the pit deeper and deeper.

      Reply
      1. Michael

        If I heard this, I would assume you actually wanted to talk about handshake technique. (Not that I have anything to say about anything about anyone.)

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    4. Kendra

      If it were me, I’d say that I’m a rock climber, both because it’s a reasonable transition from talking about grip strength and because it’s a subtle way to tell them “Look, I am not the weak female you are subconsciously expecting me to be.” If you do any kind of physical activity that would give you grip strength, this might work.

      Otherwise, I’d give him some kind of similar but reversed compliment: “Wow, nice handshake!” “Thanks, your hands are really soft!” Anything that sounds like a nice generic compliment but in reality is generally feminized.

      Reply
      1. Aurion

        Heh, I used to rock climb as well, and I’ve gotten the same reaction! I think it was more genuine surprise though because I am a very short woman and the way I grip was incongruent to the rest of me.

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      2. Kate, Short for Bob

        But to me this just reinforces that the death grip test of strength handshake is what we should all aspire to, and I don’t agree with that at all…

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      3. VintageLydia

        I sword fight, and we call the proper grip “handshake grip” because it’s the same. My handshake game has been much improved as a result. I hate death grips but I hate more the floppy “you’re a lady” grips most often presented to me. I always get a surprised look that I do, indeed, know how to do this pretty standard greeting. No comments yet, though. Maybe one “whoa.” And for reference I don’t have a particularly strong grip. Just a structured one.

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          1. Fluffer Nutter

            Yes, this! I’m a woman in my 40’s and have recently noticed a trend with both men and women under 30, but esp. women of the “cotillion flop” limp wristed handshake and it throws me off so badly. I was wondering if the hand shake was going away in larger society or something? In my job search class for refugees I taught the proper (firm, not bonecrushing) US handshake. We had so many younger volunteers and interns who couldn’t demonstrate a good handshake. I had to show them before they could practice with clients. I’m in the Mountain West so it’s not a Southern Belle kind of thing. I’ve never had a man comment on my technique, but now I’m dying for it to happen so I can try out the amazing responses here.

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            1. College Career Counselor

              Among other things, I teach students how to shake hands with a (firm, not bone-crushing), full handclasp grip. I tell students this is a first impression thing, and you want to appear confident and pleased to meet someone. Ergo, give them a decent grip so they’re not wondering about your unusual/awkward/excessively dead handshake throughout your entire interaction. Most of the male students have experience with it, although there are a number who start with really weak handshakes. A lot (not all) of the female students attempt to do some version of the finger-tip cotillion flop (love that, btw!) handshake, and I tell them that this is (or should be) an outdated practice in the professional world.

              TL; DR: People should shake hands like equals, not like they’re trying to establish primate dominance or that they’re half a second away from a curtsey. Most of us don’t work in the Neanderthal Valley circa 70,000 BC or at Downton Abbey.

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              1. nonegiven

                I’ve been giving the fingertips for over 40 years, I was crushed a few too many times as a minor. It hurt. Now I’m afraid every time someone sticks their hand out.

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            2. Sam.

              This is interesting to me, because I’m a woman in my early 30s, and I pretty much only encounter it with people much older than me. I’ve assumed they were taught differently when young or they wanted to be cautious with arthritic hands or something along those lines.

              I also work with college students and find that most of them have unremarkable handshakes (by which I mean the standard firm-but-not-crushing. I really only notice the ones on the far ends of the spectrum). Maybe it’s the particular population I work with – they’re pretty likely to have experience in professional environments, so maybe they’ve picked it up there? Curious.

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            3. Women can shake hands too!

              Thank you! This is what I was talking about above and so worried that somehow magically no one knew what I was talking about!

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          2. Blue

            I just did this yesterday, and I felt terrible! It didn’t help that she had probably 30 years on me. The other time I really remember cringing at this was the first time I met a now-colleague. She actually has a fairly firm handshake, so I don’t know if we were just misaligned or if I was just too harsh for her very thin and elegant hands, but I felt like I was crushing her fingers and was immediately mortified. (I mentioned this to her like a year later, and she had zero recollection of that handshake being awkward, but I still flash back to it when meeting someone important…)

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        1. soon 2be former fed

          Unpopular opinion ahead: I hate floppy handshakes. If women with firm handshakes were more common, it wouldn’t be noteworthy. I think women should step up their handshaking game. Woman here.

          Reply
          1. Bleeborp

            I’m not in a field where I do a ton of handshaking and it literally never occurred to me how men shake hands since, it would seem, men have shaken my hand weakly my whole life and I’ve probably met them with the weak, lady handshake they were expecting because I’ve given it zero thought in my 35 years as a female! My husband shook my hand like he would a man’s hand and I’m like “ow! why?!” I mean, it didn’t really hurt but it just seemed like why? Who cares? Unless I’m trying to gauge the promise of a competitive arm wrestler, it seems very weird. But it did make me want to foster a more firm handshake just to help out our reputation!

            Reply
          2. Courageous cat

            I almost hate to say it but I agree, as a woman, I see this really consistently with other women and I’d love to see it stop. I would be more offended by these types of comments if the shitty handshakes weren’t such an annoying epidemic. When I shake another woman’s hand and she like, limply gives me her FINGERS… it immediately (although maybe not *significantly*) alters my first impression.

            Reply
            1. Women can shake hands too!

              RIGHT? Like she thinks your hands are diseased or you have a palm buzzer so it’s almost like the Creation of Adam fresco!

              Reply
    5. Althea

      In my head, I’m thinking “You too, sport!” or “Thanks, kiddo,” or “It’s a skill, son.” Bonus points if the dude is several decades older.

      Probably not the best attitude for furthering good relations… but then neither is the compliment in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Marillenbaum

        I just finished watching The Good Place, so my response is to just go in for a ball tap. But that’s why I shouldn’t be making choices on cough syrup.

        Reply
    6. Kath

      Make a very subtle joke about “Yes, I practice on nuts. *long pause for extra awkward* I love walnuts and hate having to find a nutcracker.”

      This is something I would do, working in mining as a technical person I deal with a lot of sexist BS. Making things awkward with a completely straight face is very useful.

      Reply
  3. K.

    Happens to me a lot. I have big (I’m tall) strong hands and a firm grip (I can’t stand the dead fish handshake), so I have gotten a number of “wow, strong grip!” comments and the like.

    Reply
    1. Hills to Die on

      Oh my gosh—the number of people with a dead fish handshake is amazing! People, please—grip that hand and shake it!!

      Reply
      1. K.

        I remember shaking hands with one guy who just kind of … presented his hand, dangling vertically from his wrist. I remember thinking “Am I supposed to kiss it?” Not seriously, obviously, but it was really weird and off-putting. A handshake is not that hard!

        Reply
      2. Midge

        I saw something (in a movie maybe?) about an adult who liked shaking hands with kids because they didn’t know you were supposed to squeeze the other person’s hand. So you just got to hold hands with a child for a moment. It was cute. For adults however, the dead fish thing isn’t cute. I don’t want to hold your hand. I want to get this weirdly physical ritual of doing business over with, and you’re making it even more awkward!

        Reply
      3. Rebecca in Dallas

        Has anyone else ever seen the King of the Hill episode when Hank meets George W. Bush and is so taken aback by Bush’s handshake that he has to re-think whether or not to vote for him? It’s amazing.

        Reply
    2. Lil Fidget

      “strong grip” might mean you’re actually overdoing it a little, TBH. If the subtext is “Little missy, you’re doing a good job shaking hands like a real man” that is condescending for sure, but I’ve said “strong grip” when I mean, stop crushing my hand.

      Reply
      1. Kate 2

        Definitely! That’s actually what I expect is going on. I haven’t met any female hand crushers, but most men I meet do it. So that’s what I was thinking when OP was getting all those compliments, that she doesn’t realize she is also a hand crusher.

        Reply
        1. lost academic

          I kinda doubt that but it’s possible. In my experience it’s much harder to really be a hand crusher without also being able to more envelope the other person’s hand and bear down all the way around. Possible but less likely.

          Reply
          1. Kate 2

            Nah, it’s not about the size of the hand, but the amount of force the hand is using. If I squeeze a larger person’s hand really, really hard, I might be hurting less of their hand, less surface area, but I am still hurting. Plus hand size really depends on person size. I know one woman who is very tall and has similarly sized hands.

            Reply
          2. nonegiven

            It’s always been really big guys that crushed me. You’d think they would have learned not hurt children once they passed 30 or 40. The only people who stick their hands out that I’m not actually afraid to shake, are younger than me and I outweigh enough to take down to the floor and pin.

            Reply
      2. K.

        Maybe. My shakes don’t feel particularly hard; it’s a firm grip (slightly firmer than a hand-hold), a few pumps, and that’s it. I’ve also gotten the “little missy” subtext comment. I don’t tend to comment when I get a hand-crushing shake (I don’t comment on handshakes at all, actually). I just shake out my hand when their back is turned and keep it moving.

        Reply
      3. Secretary

        Yeah, I’ve never gotten this comment, and I’m very conscious of having a good handshake. I have also had people crush my hand, women more often than men. That could absolutely be the subtext as well.

        Reply
      4. Trout 'Waver

        At least when a guy says it to another guy, “strong grip” means “tone it down buddy, you’re trying to hard.”

        My personal opinion is that handshakes are a public health menace and the business fist bump would be preferable.

        Reply
        1. Bleeborp

          I would argue that some people can’t really help having cold clammy hands and many of us have never once considered the firmness of our handshakes and just do what comes natural (I think I’m not full floppy fish, but I know I’m not really firm either but I don’t really think about it.) It’s a weird business ritual that requires you to touch strangers and exert the exact right amount of pressure the stranger thinks you should. That’s weird!

          Reply
      1. nonegiven

        Do I really? Can I just ignore it? Can I carry something in my hand? Maybe a tissue, like I’ve been blowing my nose?

        Reply
  4. Temperance

    I’m a woman and I totally will comment if someone has a bad handshake. I have had compliments on mine, because I think that it’s surprising that a short, very blonde, almost-always-in-pink woman has a strong handshake.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      That’s odd though. I know I have an awful handshake (it’s on purpose), but it’s literally none of your business or anyone else’s and not something most people would welcome comments on either way since it’s such an irrelevant thing to focus on.

      Reply
      1. EddieSherbert

        Yeah, I mentioned below, but my hands are perpetually freezing. If it’s just that, people usually get a firm bu chilly handshake.

        … but other times, if I’m nervous (like at a job interview), my hands might be freezing AND sweaty, in which case you will get a bad handshake from me because I don’t want to give you a good opportunity feel my wet clammy hands.

        Reply
      2. Rat in the Sugar

        I agree that commenting on someone’s poor handshake isn’t good etiquette, but I’m not sure why you say that your handshake is literally no one else’s business? By definition a handshake is something that you do with another person.

        Reply
        1. Alli525

          Totally agreed, and it is a commonly accepted part of professional/work culture that bad handshakes indicate a certain lack of professionalism. I personally would rather be lied to (“oh I’m under the weather”) or be told that they don’t shake hands as a rule, rather than get a really crappy handshake.

          Reply
      3. Temperance

        Wait, what? If you’re greeting me with a handshake, at least make it a good one. I mean, it is my business if I’m expected to greet you and you half-ass it on purpose? Why not just … not shake hands?

        Reply
        1. SallytooShort

          Because refusing to shake someone’s hand is considered rude. Like you are afraid they have cooties or something.

          Some people don’t have good handshakes. I don’t see what good shaming them over it does. Even if they do it “on purpose” so what?

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            It’s so not rude! My grandboss did this the other day. A person stuck his hand out, and GB responded with a brief, light apology about getting over a cold. No one was offended, and no one cared.

            Reply
            1. SallytooShort

              I’ve seen it happen many times where it created awkwardness. And you GB had an excuse not to.

              This is supposed to be a polite social interaction. Not a competition. It’s not supposed to be graded.

              Reply
              1. Temperance

                I think if the person not shaking hands makes a big deal about it, than it becomes a thing. Like in the letter above where a person shook hands with men and not women. (That was a dick move, though.)

                I’ve seen people say things like “oh sorry, I don’t shake hands, but it’s so nice to meet you” and then we all move on.

                Reply
                1. K.

                  I do this with hugs. I hug friends and family, people I’m close to. I don’t hug colleagues or worse, vendors – or worse still, prospective vendors. I just say “I don’t hug” and offer my hand to shake, the person shakes it, and we move on.

        2. nonegiven

          You stick your hand out and I feel obligated. You’ll be insulted if I don’t. How do I get out of it without losing respect?

          Do I not notice? Do I keep something in my hand? I’ve been switched to an oncologist I don’t know. I have to go nest week. I can’t find his picture. Do I pretend to have a runny nose that day because I don’t know how big he is? Large men have always hurt me, every time. I have feared every hand shake since I was a kid.

          Do I insult every person I meet that sticks their hand out?

          Let’s make this not a thing. No more hand shakes, they just spread disease anyway.

          Reply
          1. Wanna-Alp

            To answer your question, you say something that is brief and polite and makes it clear that you don’t consent to this form of touch, and then you quickly back it up by saying something to make it clear that you are being welcoming, accompanied by a smile. That way the person has still received a good welcome from you.

            Possible scripts:

            “I’m sorry, I don’t do handshakes.” “…but it’s really nice to meet you!”

            “I’m sorry, I have a medical issue with my hands.” *slightly tilt and nod head* “…Welcome! I’m the chief chilled teapot officer here. How was your journey?”

            Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          I don’t like touching people. I don’t like being touched. I don’t appreciate being told I HAVE to touch people/be touched. My handshakes are therefore the lightest, briefest possible contact I can conceivably manage.

          If I could move my ass to Japan and bow/wear gloves, I friggin would.

          I don’t think I make people feel uncomfortable but it definitely falls under “this is not a good handshake.”

          Reply
    2. Clorinda

      It’s probably better not to criticize someone’s handshake. What if they have a weak grip because of arthritis or some other physical issue? Or what if they just have a weak grip–why would you want to start a relationship by calling that out? You wouldn’t greet someone by saying “that hairstyle doesn’t look good on you” or anything similar.

      Reply
      1. Pollygrammer

        Yep. It’s like noticing somebody has bad posture or holds their arms weird when they walk. Observe if you want to, but then 100% get the hell over it.

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        If you don’t have a good handshake – or you have arthritis or something where shaking hands hurts you, you don’t have to shake hands! There’s nothing worse than someone throwing a dead fish handshake at you.

        I get the impression that most people are doing this because they assume that I’m weak/delicate or what have you.

        Reply
        1. Pollygrammer

          “There’s nothing worse than someone throwing a dead fish handshake at you.”

          You must have an easy, easy life.

          Reply
          1. Genny

            Not sure if this is a clever throw back to yesterday’s post about “at least you don’t have cancer and an eating disorder” or if this is an inability to recognize hyperbole…

            Reply
        2. Jaintenn

          “There’s nothing worse than someone throwing a dead fish handshake at you.”

          Surely we can all agree that having cancer and an eating disorder is worse.

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            That letter reminded me of the South Park episode where Cartman gets AIDS, and everyone keeps saying “at least it’s not cancer!”.

            That’s probably where she got the idea!

            Reply
        3. Aquila

          As someone with arthritis, I’d rather shake hands with my weak grip than pretend that a weak grip makes me an untouchable pariah.

          Reply
        4. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

          If it were me, I’m not sure I’d want to out myself as having a disability every time. :-/

          Reply
        5. PlainJane

          The dead fish handshake feels (to me) like the person really doesn’t want to touch me. I’d much rather someone say they don’t shake hands. Nothing wrong with a phony excuse–“I injured my hand recently,” or, “I’m getting over a cold”–if that feels better. But please don’t shake my hand as though I’m unclean.

          Reply
        6. A.

          I’ve given a weak handshake when I observe someone coughing or wiping their nose before sticking their hand out to shake mine. So I give a very limp handshake and I feel grossed out until I can find a bathroom to wash my hands.

          Reply
          1. Kathryn T.

            I’m a professional singer, and colds or flu can really interfere with my ability to perform. So I basically don’t shake hands. (“Basically” because, well, sometimes I do, but I don’t like it.) Usually I just say “I’m sorry, I’m a singer and this flu season is really scary, I try not to shake hands,” but sometimes I will offer an elbow bump instead.

            I wish elbow bumping would catch on, frankly. It accomplishes the same thing as a handshake — look, here we are in the same physical space, we have made brief contact as equals — but you can’t touch your face or nose or mouth or bottom with your elbow.

            Reply
      3. Elemeno P.

        +1. I’m a young woman…and I happen to have arthritis. A regular handshake doesn’t hurt, but one of those hand-crushers does. Overly enthusiastic high fives are also painful.

        Reply
        1. Hey Nonnie

          The simple and not-mean solution to that is to shake with a confident grip yourself. Show, don’t tell, that you’re not delicate.

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            I think sexism is mean, so assuming that I’m weak because I’m female and feminine is douchey. I do use a good handshake, obviously.

            Reply
            1. Hey Nonnie

              You have no way of knowing the motives for their delicate handshake if someone doesn’t verbalize it, however. You know what they say about assumptions.

              Reply
              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Exactly. The other person could have arthritis or other issues. And I know your view is that they just shouldn’t shake hands with you, but there a number of valid reasons why they might feel that shaking your hands is the better option. You don’t have to enjoy the experience of a handshake that doesn’t fit your standards, but you shouldn’t assume it’s always sexism.

                Sometimes it is sexism. Often it’s sexism. It’s not always.

                Reply
        2. MicroManagered

          Ohhhhh! I thought you were really rude (lol) but now I think I get it. Like say a bunch of men are shaking hands at the beginning of a meeting, and you can see they’re giving each other strong grips… then they go to shake yours and give you a weaker grip, because you’re a delicate woman… You would say something then?

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            YES! This is exactly it. I think everyone is assuming that I’m just running around bullying people, which, while tempting, is not really my style, lol.

            Reply
            1. SallytooShort

              So you’re just making assumptions about people’s motives and then being mean to them based on those assumptions? At what is supposed to just be a polite social greeting?

              Reply
                1. SallytooShort

                  It’s not. There is no basis of the assumption. And no way to tell how firm a handshake was to someone else unless it’s a bone crusher (which is a rude handshake not a firm one.)

                2. Pollygrammer

                  Nope, she’s saying that if she assumes somebody would be using a firmer handshake with a man, she complains about it. B/c “There’s nothing worse than someone throwing a dead fish handshake at you.”

              1. Temperance

                Most of the people I meet with are men. I’m in law. You can absolutely tell how strong a handshake given to someone else is – it’s obvious when you see arm strength and then someone lobs a dead fish at you.

                I feel like you have a lot of feelings about this and I offended you in some way. It’s a handshake, it’s not really that deep.

                Reply
            2. Ani are you okay

              Okay, but your initial comment did not say anything about comparing the handshake they gave you to the handshakes they gave the men, so you can probably see where everyone got confused.

              Reply
              1. Temperance

                I totally get that now. I’m also a lawyer, so most people I end up meeting with are male, so it probably happens more frequently in my industry than others.

                Reply
      1. Hey Nonnie

        Yeah, that just seems mean-spirited. IF you’re in a mentorship position with the person (and they have asked for/welcome that), it MIGHT be something to bring up to them privately. But shaming them in front of others? That’s a middle school level of conduct. If I witnessed that, I’d certainly have some critical thoughts filing away for future interactions, but they sure wouldn’t be about the handshaker.

        Reply
    3. SallytooShort

      I would be pretty put off and annoyed if I gave a simple polite greeting (like a handshake) and the person was rude about it because it’s not strong enough or whatever.

      Reply
      1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

        Same here. I’d also hate to imagine meeting someone and having what seemed like a perfectly nice interaction, while in reality they were thinking the entire time: “geez, her handshake wasn’t strong enough, she should be ashamed of herself.”

        But I don’t see why people care so much in the first place. The handshake affects absolutely nothing objectively, so why is society wasting so much time and energy on distinguishing good ones from bad ones?

        Reply
    4. MustNotBeNamed

      I’m a young woman who compliments people of all genders on their hand shakes occasionally…but now that I’m thinking about it, I really only do that to people who are younger than me, so I should probably cut it out!

      Reply
    5. SheLooksFamiliar

      I think the better approach is not to comment on a handshake at all. A weak one may be due to a physical condition, and the person thinks, ‘Thanks for pointing it out! Not embarrassing at all!’ A bonecrusher could elicit an ‘Ouch!’ but no editorial. And a good, strong grip? Complimenting it is patronizing, whether or not that was the intention.

      Reply
  5. headache on a plane

    Ugh, I was hoping it’d somehow not be sexist, but in not surprised but the Twitter response.

    I personally would be tempted to ask, “what makes you say that?” to see if they’ll have a moment of reflection, but maybe that’s not worth possibly offending someone over?

    Reply
    1. Allison

      Why would it offend someone to ask that? And would that be a reasonable response?

      I guess I should ask, why do some people get so angry at those who ask them to, say, look at something from a different perspective, or question whether they’re really as unbiased as they’d like to believe?

      Reply
      1. headache on a plane

        I think in a way that the notion that hand shaking man is wrong is implied – I mean we are essentially trying to get him to think about his behavior because we think it is wrong. Some people respond to that badly. It’s not really a question of analyzing all that though, ultimately OP has to make the judgment on what is best for her professional life.

        Reply
      2. Tuxedo Cat

        Re. your last question, my experience has been some people are very black and white in their thinking and hold beliefs about themselves being good people. To some extent, most people think of sexism/racism/etc. as bad. So any hint of suggesting they’re sexist/racist/etc. makes them think you’re calling them a bad person whereas most if not all people do occasional things that are sexist/racist/etc.

        Reply
    2. Midge

      The only surprise for me in the Twitter responses was the person who brought up air kissing (!!!) being more common than shaking hands thing in England between men and women in work contexts. I would not be pleased if that was expected of me!

      Reply
      1. Salty Picasso

        Don’t move to New Zealand then! It’s not unheard of to touch noses during a team meeting or some business functions.

        Reply
      2. yasmara

        Oh wow, when I loved abroad I was the epitome of the awkward American who did not know how to air kiss. We just don’t learn it here.

        Reply
      3. only acting normal

        What?!
        Not where I’ve ever worked in the UK (mostly England), thank god. I’ve only encountered it once at a business meeting and it was beyond weird.
        Can’t see it flying in most of the UK (outside of social situations). Maybe in certain industries in London??

        Reply
      4. Miso

        Good thing I never wanted to work in the UK anyway…

        I absolutely LOATHE that custom… Way too close and personal for me. The only person I want that close up in my face is my boyfriend.

        Fortunately we don’t do it in the region where I’m from, but speaking about boyfriend – they all did it where my ex is from. Those big meetings with family and friends were always terrible… I always tried to swoop in with a handshake. (that is probably too weak, but who cares?)

        Reply
  6. Lil Fidget

    TBH apart from the gender issue I’ve also seen this done when a handshake is actually a little too firm. “Wow, good grip there” is a classic. It can mean you’re actually squeezing too hard or pumping too emphatically, even if they don’t say that. In general, a handshake should be more or less unremarkable.

    Reply
    1. BethRA

      Possibly, but in this case, she’s only hearing it from men. If she were crushing bones, you would think she’d have heard it at least once or twice from other women.

      Reply
    2. SWGl

      My problem (as a small woman) is that I go in for a standard, normal-grip handshake, and more often than not the man on the other side has softened his hand muscles, or whatever, in anticipation of me having a weak handshake. So I do squeeze a little too hard, and it’s awkward, but only because the dude didn’t meet me half way.

      Reply
  7. Wannabe Disney Princess

    In high school, we had one of the counselor’s go through the classes analyzing us on our handshakes. At 14 I was admonished for being “too weak” and was “never going to get a job with such a girly handshake”.

    The next year, I’m pretty sure I nearly broke his fingers. He never said anything to me again.

    (Yes, I’m aware this is abnormal behavior I have Stories about my high school.)

    Reply
      1. twig

        also: “girly”???

        it’s always bugged me when “girly” is used as a negative descriptor.
        “You throw like a girl!” I am a girl, if I’m doing it wrong, how about you show me HOW to do it instead of telling me that I’m inherently flawed.

        Reply
          1. Temperance

            Absolutely, but you were degraded for your “girly” handshake because “girly” implied weakness/not being as good as a boy or man.

            Reply
        1. Merida Ann

          Yep. I remember getting really frustrated with my dad practicing softball once in middle school because he just kept telling me to stop throwing like a girl. I finally said something like “Since I *am* a girl, I will be throwing like a girl no matter how I throw because I will be throwing it like *me*.” Plus, I wanted to improve, but “don’t throw like a girl”, in addition to just being awful sexist phrasing doesn’t actually tell me what I’m physically doing wrong or how to improve.

          Reply
        2. Your Weird Uncle

          I agree!

          I’m trying to do my best by calling people out when I hear things like ‘I screamed like a girl’ etc. etc. Usually a ‘what’s wrong with sounding like a girl?’ will get them to pause and think.

          Reply
          1. MCMonkeyBean

            I love the Hailee Steinfeld song “Most Girls,” which takes a shot at the stupid “oh, I like you because you’re not like most girls” trope. Like hey man, what’s wrong with most girls? Girls are awesome!

            Reply
        3. RabbitRabbit

          The “Man who has it all” Facebook parody account posted an image of runners this morning with the text, “To all male runners! It’s actually okay to run like a boy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Some boys can run quite fast.”

          (Other “advice” includes emphasizing your strong points like your handsome mouth to distract from what comes out of it, and that smiling releases the hormone that tackles structural inequalities.)

          Reply
    1. MCL

      Yeah, I was taught in middle school to have a firm handshake in order to (I think?) overcome perceptions of female weakness. Young me took it to heart, but I think too much – I was mortified to give a strong handshake to a woman who winced in pain. I think it’s really important to teach people that a firm handshake is nice, but a crushing handshake is not great!

      Adult me politely handshakes as a business protocol, but I don’t really like doing it much.

      Reply
      1. soon 2be former fed

        I have taken to saying if its ok I would rather not shake hands because of the flu epidemic. I have chronic health conditions that could make the flu problematic for me. No one has reacted badly and the other person might be relieved.

        Reply
  8. Rossa

    As a woman I myself am frequently surprised when other women have a good handshake (although I have the good sense not to comment on it!) since most women that I have shaken hands with (and also some men, but less than women) will either place just the fingers in the palm, or worse: have a limp hand like a dead fish.

    It’s compliment, take it at face value, move on, and continue doing an awesome job – since even if they mean to be condescending, which i doubt – they will soon be proven wrong. Being underestimated is a position of power.

    Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          No one is suggesting dying on this hill. You can recognize something as sexist and be annoyed by it without making it your highest priority in life. I’m sure you don’t intend it this way, but this kind of comment is pretty dismissive in a discussion of sexist behavior.

          Reply
          1. headache on a plane

            I suspect this may have been a joke based on the username “Hills to Die on”, but Mommy MD would have to confirm.

            Reply
          2. Bostonian

            “You can recognize something as sexist and be annoyed by it without making it your highest priority in life.”

            Thank you for this. Whenever I share experiences of minor sexism with friends online, I inevitably get a few “It’s not that big of a deal!” Well.. yeah, but I can at least point it out, right?

            Reply
        2. Hey Nonnie

          Systemic sexism thrives on being subtle and unconscious, so I think there is a great deal of value in calmly nudging people towards some self-examination. No one can correct a bias they don’t know about. Assuming this is a person who wants to be self-aware and/or an ally, you’re doing them a favor by providing them the opportunity for introspection.

          Many small things (such as making appearance-based comments at work and believing it’s normal) add up to big things (like men feeling entitled to women’s bodies), so the small things are probably not as small as you think. People may have opinions on other people’s bodies (appearance, clothes, handshake, how manly/femme they seem) but work is not the appropriate place to express them out loud.

          Reply
            1. Hey Nonnie

              Thanks. I have men in my life who freely admit to using me as a touchstone for these kinds of things, and I’m glad that my outspokenness helps them. I mean, the point of all this is to change things, right?

              And you gotta wonder, if a man is surprised by my handshake, will he also be surprised by my competence? Will he assume I’m not capable of a complex project at work the same way he assumed I wasn’t capable of an acceptable handshake? Would I ever even find out about these missed opportunities, or would he even realize that that’s what he was doing? Wouldn’t that ultimately, over time, affect my career path and my paycheck?

              It all matters. It’s not “little stuff.”

              Reply
        3. BoredNerd

          For you maybe. Spend 10 hours a day having a bunch of old guys making sexist backhanded compliments about your strength or technical knowledge and you easily get to the point where your willing to light yourself on fire to never hear ” Oh wow your strong” or “do you need to get someone else do that?”

          Reply
    1. Rossa

      Just to add: I think it’s sad people see sexism everywhere even where there is none. It IS everywhere, but such non-examples dilute the true sexism that goes on everyday.

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        I think it’s sad that so many people assume that if they don’t consider it sexism, it obviously must be objectively non-sexist.

        Reply
          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Thank you! We’re having system outages at work so I’ve got a little extra energy for shenanigans today :)

            Reply
        1. soon 2be former fed

          It could be a microaggression, as a black person I experience those damn near every day and have to pick my battles so as to not be utterly exhausted by it all. Same applies to sexism.

          Reply
      2. Future Homesteader

        Just because people aren’t *intending* something to be sexist doesn’t make it not-sexist. They’re commenting on something because they view it as inherently remarkable that a woman would be acting in such a way (ie like a man), which means they necessarily think that most women do or should act a certain way (ie feminine and therefore weak). Just because they’re not consciously thinking through that doesn’t mean that it’s not still coming from a place of sexism.

        Reply
      3. Allison

        Wait, so you know sexism is everywhere, but it’s sad that people see it? Why do we need to reserve the word for egregious forms of violence and oppression? Why can’t we talk about all forms of sexism?

        Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Primarily to children and women. Not just children. It’s the point I made in the post — people compliment the handshakes of children and women. Because they’re patronizing women.

            Reply
          2. VC

            It’s not just children, it’s children + women that is the flag for something being sexist. If you say something to children, and also to women BUT not men, then you are treating women like children.

            Reply
          3. headache on a plane

            That’s not what she said… She said “primarily to women and children and not men.” The point is that putting adult women in the same category as children, instead of with adult men, tends to be sexist. Because adult women are not children.

            Reply
          4. CorporateQueer

            Jamie, it’s because they say it to children *and* women, but not men. As in, it’s infantilizing. Think of the way some men say “hello, girls”, both to a group of women or a bunch of female children, when they would never say “hello, boys” to a group of men.

            Reply
          5. JoanLynne

            *children and women. If something is said *only* to children and women, and not men, that’s infantilizing women.

            Reply
      4. General Ginger

        In my experience, it’s more that sexism is so pervasive that we are accustomed enough to the less egregious instances and tend to brush them off as non-examples.

        Reply
      5. Purplesaurus

        And it’s the subtle, unconscious kinds of sexism like this that seem worse to me, because they are so easily dismissed and labeled as “non-examples” to highlight the big overt obvious kinds of sexism. You can treat the symptoms, but they’ll just keep coming back until you deal with the underlying infection.

        Reply
      6. NaoNao

        If something is only being said by men to women *and not to other men* than it’s sexist.
        Non examples don’t actually “dilute” true sexism because there’s no scale, judge, and jury. Microaggressions are a real thing that, as we can see by the OPs letter, affect every day life and real people.
        Complimenting a woman on her mastery of a male trait with a touch of surprise in your voice is not, say, refusing to let a woman vote.
        But small offenses can coexist and even lead to larger ones.
        Things like this are what creates a sexist *culture*. And that’s why people point them out and try to change them. Because they’re part of an overall sexist culture that creates, protects, defends, ignores, and excuses much larger sexist behaviors.

        Reply
        1. Hey Nonnie

          Even the idea that certain things are “male traits” is problematic. There’s nothing about a good handshake that is inherently male. It’s not even logical to expect that good handshakes = male and bad handshakes = female.

          Reply
      7. Snark

        I think it’s unfortunate that anything short of “GET IN THAT KITCHEN AND MAKE ME A SAMMICH WOMAN” gets rounded down to benign.

        Reply
        1. Purplesaurus

          The logic never makes sense to me. If you can agree that “woman, get me a sandich [ass slap] ” is a sexist behavior due to certain expectations of women, then how on earth isn’t “wowzers, a woman with a good handshake” also not a sexist behavior due to certain expectations of women?

          Reply
      8. Temperance

        These things are called microaggressions. Easy to brush off, but they matter and help perpetuate a sexist society.

        Reply
    2. iseeshiny

      Yeah same. Like yes it’s probably weirdly sexist but I also enjoy a good handshake and a lot of times other women do a handtouch instead of a handshake.

      Reply
      1. spock

        I mean, if most men shake hands one way and most women do it differently then complimenting thr more masculine way because it’s “good” definitely is sexist. Not the most egregious form of sexism, sure, but why is the manly way automatically better? Personally I see nothing wrong with the shake you call a “handtouch”, even if some folks think I’m doing it wrong.

        Reply
        1. Hey Nonnie

          And there’s really no evidence that I’m aware of that handshake style is “mostly” divided a long gender lines to begin with. I’ve found it pretty rare that anyone of any gender has a weak handshake. Of those that do, men are among them.

          Reply
          1. NaoNao

            Well, the anecdotal evidence presented by the OP and many others through here that a woman is getting repeatedly complimented for her handshake style, which is remarkable enough for a) only men to compliment her and b) only her among a mixed gender group to receive that compliment would seem to indicate that a *strong, firm handshake* is something that many men/ people associate more with men than women.
            Also of note: women used to wear gloves. So their naked hands wouldn’t touch a man’s hand.
            Women used to present their hand to be touched, or kissed, not shaken.
            Women used to curtsey instead of shaking hands to indicate respect.

            The phenomenon of women shaking hands with each other or with men is new to society.

            You may not recall this or be aware of it, but there was an article here on this site recently about a man who refused to shake hands with women due to his religion. Not men, just women.

            There is something culturally about shaking hands that is indeed very gendered. Now, whether or not YOU believe it or have experienced it is another story. But it exists.

            Just think about this: when a man greets his male friends, how does he do so, usually? Shaking hands heartily. Maybe a backslap.

            How do women greet their female friends? With a handshake? That seems weird, doesn’t it? Like something from a comedy movie. Because shaking hands is a “guy thing” or “all business” and women usually don’t consider their female friends as business associates.

            Reply
            1. Hey Nonnie

              Just because there is an obvious cultural bias or expectation (“of course women have weak handshakes”) does not in any way imply that said bias is grounded in fact, however. Which was my point to begin with. There are a LOT of cultural beliefs about women that are objectively false. And I’d posit that “women by nature have weak handshakes” is one of them. I’ve never heard of a study that found that “strong” vs “weak” handshakes fell along gender lines. (This belief also casually erases those who are non-binary, which is another problem with it.) We’ve been working at overcoming those biases for literally centuries.

              We’re also discussing handshakes in a business context, not how women or men greet their friends. (I’d honestly find it really weird that if a man greeted a friend in a non-work context with a handshake. Handshakes are way too formal for friends; it implies a polite distance.)

              Reply
              1. NaoNao

                True…but we’re not really talking about facts, here. It’s for sure a fact that women don’t have weaker handshakes etc. No one is really arguing that. But from the content and presentation of your remarks it seems like you’re arguing that because the belief is not a fact, it’s not a real problem, and I think that’s what people are arguing against.
                So regardless of a Harvard study saying that women give weak handshakes, men seem to ACT as if that’s the case, and that’s the issue here.

                Reply
                1. Hey Nonnie

                  No, I was responding to spock’s assertion that “most men shake hands one way and most women do it differently,” and therefore praising the “man’s” style is sexist. It’s both true that one style isn’t inherently better than another (which was spock’s point), and it is also true that there is no evidence that “most men shake hands one way and most women do it differently.” So the sexism comes both from believing “men’s” handshakes are better, and believing that it’s a fact that men’s handshakes are different.

                  I’m really not sure why you’re confused by this. I’m just repeating myself at this point, but just because there’s a cultural belief that women have weak handshakes and men don’t, doesn’t mean that belief has any basis in fact (as I pointed out in my first post), and yes, we agree, that’s a problem. It’s a problem because that belief is not rooted in fact.

        2. iseeshiny

          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I could be one of those ladies so steeped in institutional sexism that I’m keeping other women down, orrrrr maybe I just prefer a firm handshake? It’s also ableist if you think about it, because some people are arthritic and a firm grip is impossible or painful for them. It could also be classist, because some people belong to a class where they’re more likely to be taught how to shake hands properly, or it could be ageist or racist, because maybe younger people or people of color are more likely to fist bump. I could spend my whole life parsing this stuff and worrying about it and probably be a better person for it, albeit one with far less free time, or I can just accept that I find a handtouch when I expect a handshake offputting. As long as I’m not letting my preference for a firm handshake affect larger decisions like whether I like of trust a person, I’m comfortable with having a preference.

          (Side note: the most delightful, satisfying-looking handshake I’ve ever witnessed was by Susan Rice and John Stewart when she was interviewed on the Daily Show some years ago. I’d love to shake her hand someday!)

          Reply
          1. Courageous cat

            Agreed with this. I don’t feel like something as relatively innocent as a disliking a type of handshake is going to be something I’m going to give a lot of thought towards w/r/t any problematic reasons I may have for feeling that way. It’s something all genders do an equal amount and are equally capable of performing, so I just don’t see a need to view it through a sexist lens.

            Reply
        3. iseeshiny

          Ohhhh and for the record I would never comment on someone’s handshake. And have never had mine commented upon. And I’m a thirty year old woman but also have a serious case of RBF.

          Reply
      1. Hills to Die on

        I’ve seen that compliment given to men. The only time I’ve ever heard someone comment on someone else’s handshake.

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          Most people never have though. Just because you’ve witnessed an outlier doesn’t mean it’s not a seriously uncommon thing.

          Reply
      2. Thlayli

        interestingly, I introduced a guy to my three male gay housemates and afterwards every single one of the housemates told me he had a good handshake. They all commented on it separately and i think they had been talking about it as a group. They mentioned it in the context of “he’s attractive; he has a good handshake” and I think the handshake was one of the things they found attractive about him.

        But I don’t remember if they said it to his face or not.

        Reply
        1. MCMonkeyBean

          I think the only time it’s really common for a man to comment on another man’s handshake is actually in this exact scenario. This is a trope of a father (or in your case male roommates) judging his daughter’s new boyfriend based on his handshake to see if he is good enough for her. I feel like the underlying idea behind that is actually also kind of sexist, like this old fashioned idea that he has to be strong enough to take care of his woman.

          Reply
      3. Jaguar

        Is it sexist to notice or comment on differences between genders? Women often have dead fish handshakes, even if a decent number of men do as well. What goes into that most likely involves a lot of gender roles about women and femininity, but the result is there. So the question is, does acknowledging the difference constitute sexism? Or does sexism have to be a prejudice, bias, or discrimination you have on the basis of gender? Because it’s hard to say a ice breaker comment about a woman having a firm handshake is discriminatory any more than a “that’s so nice” comment a man will get from a woman when he voluntarily cleans up after himself. That’s not to say it’s wrong to feel irritated by it – I know men who have been irritated by the “that’s so nice” sort of thing – but I’ve always considered sexism an accusation of wrongdoing and I’m not sure it fits here.

        Reply
        1. LizB

          I’ve always considered sexism an accusation of wrongdoing and I’m not sure it fits here. That’s not really in line with how the term is being used in this conversation, though. We’re not talking about Sexism, The Bad Thing Bad People Actively Do — we’re talking about the underlying societal sexism that shows up in all sorts of places in our culture, including in your example of men being praised for cleaning. The word can be used to apply to both intentional acts and systemic consequences.

          Reply
        2. Hey Nonnie

          Slight tangent, but I have found that it’s more commonly men who are in favor of verbal acknowledgement for cleaning up after themselves than it is women who instigate that. I am often having conversations with other women about how we really wish the men in our lives would clean as a matter of course, instead of expecting specific praise for the very basics of functioning as an adult. We (women) clean and it’s just expected as the normal, unspoken state of things; the men in our lives clean and want us to tell them that we noticed it. We get really irritated by this, and are continuously at a loss for how to change it. It’s the subject of a lot of couples’ arguments in my circles.

          I’d actually love to never patronize men in regards to their cleaning, but said men have specifically requested otherwise.

          Reply
          1. CM

            OK, but that’s not an inherently manly thing — this is a case where everybody involved is trying to change the way they have been conditioned to do things.

            Reply
            1. Hey Nonnie

              I never said it was. It’s actually rooted in the same sexism that the handshake thing is rooted in — the assumption of which traits “belong to” which gender. I noted it was a bad example for the point you were making because it’s (generally) not the women who are patronizing in this specific case. The handshake thing is discriminatory because men are assuming things about all women (ie women have weak handshakes). The praise-for-cleaning thing is ALSO discriminatory because men are assuming things about all women (ie women do the cleaning).

              Reply
        3. CM

          Jaguar, from your comment it sounds like to you, there’s a divide between behavior that’s just annoying (even if gender-based) and behavior that is discriminatory (sexist). I don’t think there’s a divide — there’s a spectrum. Any time you treat someone differently or think of them differently, purely based on their gender, I would call that sexism. Does it make you a bad person? No, not automatically — even if you’re being blatantly discriminatory. But does it mean you should be more aware of what you’re doing and how it’s affecting others, and change your behavior if it has a negative impact on others? Absolutely, and that’s true across the spectrum. So I would say that both complimenting a man for cleaning (stereotypically something that only women do well/voluntarily) and complimenting a woman for a strong handshake (stereotypically something that only men do well) are both sexist — and I don’t think it’s accusatory to say so. I think it’s good to point it out, so people become aware of it. I just got the “nice handshake” myself recently, and I’m 100% sure the guy who delivered it had good intentions, and had no idea I found it annoying or why. Still sexism, just on the milder side of the spectrum.

          Reply
          1. Jaguar

            Right. This is what I’m asking. Is something sexist if it is not discriminatory (which is to say, you’re treating people differently), biased, or prejudiced but rather a comment on an atypical situation (assuming that women dead fish disproportionately more than men, for the sake of argument)? I find that premise hard to accept. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t quite get there. It doesn’t strike me as sexist to acknowledge a man with long hair or a woman using the bench press at the gym is out of the ordinary. Calling any recognition of gender differences sexist seems to make the idea of sexism so broad it’s basically useless.

            Reply
            1. CM

              I think when you’re judging what’s typical and atypical based on gender, yes, it’s sexist. You might see it as just “acknowledging” that it’s unusual for a man to have long hair, but the man probably wishes people would stop commenting on his hair, and I guarantee you the bench-pressing women has had to endure lots of unwanted comments about her gym routine. You’ve heard of microaggressions, right — the idea that if somebody once makes a comment about your long hair, it’s no big deal, but if you’re always getting comments and jokes about it, it goes beyond annoying and makes you feel like something is wrong with you (until you realize that something is wrong with everybody else, which is that they’re looking at you and judging whether or not they think you are normal). And very often it goes beyond comments. The bench-pressing woman may not get the same treatment that her male counterparts get, but in subtle ways — people assume she’s not waiting for the machine and step ahead of her in line, or share exercise tips with each other but not with her. When she buys equipment, the person at the store may give her a hard time or sell her things that are meant for someone with a different body type, assuming that she’s buying it for a man. She may not even be able to buy equipment because there is none available for her body type. It goes on and on. It’s easier if we just stop forcing people into categories and refrain from commenting when someone does something that we consider atypical for their gender (race, sexual orientation, etc.)

              Would you feel differently if this were about race? Like, people often comment on my name, and I’ve had people insist that they can’t attempt to pronounce it, or even laugh at me. It’s clearly because of my race. But do you think that’s not racist because they’re just acknowledging that it’s something different about me?

              Reply
              1. Jaguar

                But it’s not judging. Judging is forming an opinion, deciding on the acceptableness of something, or forming some conclusion. It’s an observation: women really do have long hair far more than men do. There’s no judging what is typical involved in saying that. Men with long hair (at least in English-speaking North American society) really is atypical. They might get tired of talking about it (although, some don’t), but cashiers get tired of people making the “I guess it’s free” joke from customers when a product is damaged – it’s about the frequency (or possibly, in the case of long hair, about not appreciating comments on appearance), not the content. Being irritated by something that happens to be about gender doesn’t seem like enough to move it past the goalposts into sexism.

                If it were about race and it wasn’t discriminatory, prejudiced, biased, or in any way making you treat people of a given ethnicity differently, I don’t think that would be racist. Racial, but not racist.

                Reply
                1. name

                  It’s not just the pointing out of gendered differences that’s the problem here, it’s the assignment of value to those differences. In the context of a patriarchal society, complimenting a woman for having a good (strong?) handshake carries an implied judgment that such a behavior is unexpected /for a woman/, which implies that women on the whole have bad (weak?) handshakes. (Yes, it could be a one-off comment, but we know in this case that it’s not.) Also, I don’t think we can say that it isn’t discriminatory–it is discriminatory if these men are not also complimenting other men on the quality of their handshakes. The impacts of that discrimination are certainly minor relative to other forms of sexism, but as CM says, it is still on the spectrum of sexist behavior.

                2. Hey Nonnie

                  And I’d argue that it’s not really minor — these so-called “minor” instances both reveal and affirm through repetition broader attitudes towards women. You have a great handshake for a woman; you’re pretty smart for a woman. What this reveals is that woman are devalued, viewed as less than, less capable, less adult, less whatever. What this translates to (among other things) is a bunch of people not promoting women at work because you promote the smart ones, the competent ones, not those who are “less than” — and they probably don’t even realize that they’re making that judgment call based on gender. To them, it’s just obvious that Joe is more capable than Jane, and this attitude persists even when there is explicit evidence to the contrary. (Feel free to google the numerous studies on implicit bias, including the resume study.)

                  This has measurable financial impact, among other things. Why do you think the gender pay gap exists?

    3. Kathleen_A

      I think it’s mostly a compliment, with a smidgeon of…well, let’s call it gender expectations. It’s a compliment because there are a lot of bad handshakes out there (the dead fish, the fingers-in-the-palm-twist, the soulful two-handed grip, the milady-I-salute-you non-handshake, etc.) So it is nice, and sometimes a bit unusual, to meet someone who does one well. I wouldn’t ever comment aloud on it, but I have definitely thought to myself, “Nice handshake.”

      The gender expectations part comes in because, of course, they are particularly pleased that a young woman does it correctly. Mind you, I don’t think they’re right to think that women are less likely to have good handshakes than men are – I’ve had lots of bad (and good) handshakes from both sexes. But it could be that their experiences differ from mine.

      In any case, all I’d say under these circumstances is “Thanks.” (And you have my permission, if you need it, to look a little puzzled as you say this.) Then move on to the business at hand.

      Reply
      1. Lissa

        Yeah, the sexism comes in because it’s like “I am so surprised that someone of your gender can do this well.” It’s an annoying ingrained sexism thing, makes me think of calling people of colour “well spoken” or something – on the surface it’s a compliment but it’s a compliment because of ingrained prejudices.

        I’d probably do a “puzzled thanks” or if I felt particularly jaunty that day, “You too!” because I suspect most of these guys aren’t consciously thinking these things, so calling them out more clearly is unlikely to have the effect I want (which is to stop it going forward, and I suspect this only happens once with each dude.)

        Reply
      2. Merci Dee

        gender expectations = sexism

        If you expect people of one gender to do something one way and people of another gender to do that same thing a different way, then your expectations are sexist. This is pretty much the definition of the word.

        Reply
  9. Snarkus Aurelius

    I’d probably respond by saying, “Yours too! So unexpected!” He won’t know how to respond.

    I get this a lot with the word “direct.” Only men say this to me. Me saying something isn’t so great or not what was expected usually gets a comment on my directness.

    Part of it I get because women are socialized to acquiesce or be nice. I know there’s no ill intent behind it, but it’s still annoying. Plus alpha types are less likely to cross a line with me, although I shouldn’t have to have a rough exterior to prevent that.

    I’ve never met a man who has been complimented on his ability to be direct.

    Reply
    1. Jake

      I have on a ridiculous number of occasions, to the point of annoyance.

      That being said, it has decreased in frequency as I’ve aged.

      Reply
    2. Future Homesteader

      Thankfully no one has called me feisty or scrappy in a few years (aging has its perks!), but that’s one I used to get all the time…for being a competent young woman in a workplace who spoke up when something was off. And I wasn’t even aggressive! Just short, female, and not a push-over.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        It’s not very snarky if you’re thoughtful and jokey about how you deliver it—this can actually be done in a pretty charming and kind way. And it often won’t damper a business contact. I think it’s fine to push back whenever a person thinks it’s appropriate to do so. I don’t think it makes sense to avoid gently telling people they’re being offensive because you’re worried they won’t like you anymore.

        Reply
      2. all aboard the anon train

        What’s minor to you could be a major issue for someone else, and I don’t think it helps to be so dismissive of someone’s views on a certain subject just because you don’t agree with them.

        Reply
    3. Temperance

      This is how I am, too. I can pull it off because I’m able to play it off as kind of a joke. , almost. I kind of have the opposite exterior. I definitely rock RBF on the street, but I’m known for being nice to everyone at work.

      Reply
    4. all aboard the anon train

      I get this all the time, too. Though, I’ve noticed I only get the “direct” comments when I’m agreeing or adding onto something a man said, but if I’m bringing up an opposing view or something they disagree with, “direct” becomes “aggressive” or “b*tchy”, no matter how polite and professional I am about it.

      Reply
  10. Jake

    I’m male, 29 years old with a firm handshake and haven’t been complimented on it in 7ish years.

    I never compliment people on their handshakes, but I do notice when somebody gives me a limp or extraordinarily long hand shake.

    Anyway, its absolutely got sexist underpinnings.

    Reply
    1. Goya de la Mancha

      I have small hands, so while my handshake is meant to be firm and confident, I sometimes have a hard time “gripping” the other hand and can probably come across as weak. It’s never been commented on to me though, other then many moons ago when I was young and being mentored at my first job (“Speak clearly – don’t mumble”, “A strong handshake is part of a solid first impression”, etc.)

      Reply
  11. Amber Rose

    This is one tiny part of the reason I give the limpest, quickest handshake I know how to give (the larger part being my general dislike of physical contact, but that’s off topic.) If people want to underestimate me over something so minor, they are probably going to do that anyway.

    But that’s not a good option for you, so I think your options are limited to either continuing to shrug it off, or pushing back gently. I personally would be tempted to reply, “what an odd thing to say.” But you could probably also compliment them on their handshake back and see if they figure out weirdness by osmosis.

    Being patronized to is very tiring, but so is fighting against it. Whatever route you take is understandable and you have this internet stranger’s full support and empathy.

    Reply
    1. JeanB in NC

      Couldn’t you just say “oh sorry, I don’t shake hands” instead of doing a limp, perfunctory handshake? I just say “oh, no handshakes – hand problems!” and it’s never been an issue.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Could just be that I’m not in a male-dominated field, but I don’t see handshakes as important enough to either do with strength and conviction or avoid entirely. It’s three seconds of flesh contact; I get that it’s useful to execute it in a way that’s advantageous for you, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if you don’t.

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          Yes but you see, I DO NOT like to be touched. Please imagine a crack of thunder and ominous red glow while reading that. I really hate physical contact.

          I work in a male dominated field where people I know want to shake my damn hand every time. Being slight about it has discouraged ALL of them. I have 100% success rate in avoiding repeat hand touching.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I’m actually disagreeing with the people who think your options are either shaking hands firmly or opting out entirely.

            Reply
          2. Safetykats

            I don’t particularly like shaking hands either. I find that carrying a notebook and a coffee cup, and just nodding and saying nice to meet you, work just fine. Most people aren’t clueless enough to offer a handshake when your hands are full.

            Reply
    2. MassMatt

      This strikes me as contrary to what a handshake is supposed to be, a greeting and show of sincerity and openness. IMO this is equivalent to deliberately mumbling a “hello I’m MassMatt” so no one can understand you. If you dislike physical contact you can politely decline to shake hands, it’s better than deliberately doing it terribly.

      Are you trying to make an awful first impression?

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        If my warm smile and personable attitude don’t make a good first impression, a good handshake will not change your mind and vice versa. Forcing me into physical contact I actively hate is not sincere or open or kind.

        This is a weird tradition that people get weirdly hung up on. In 12 years of professional experience, a bad handshake has mattered zero times. A good handshake (which I can do) has also mattered zero times.

        Reply
    1. Pollygrammer

      To add: I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that people are so much more likely to comment on women physically—appearance and behavior—than men’s. Sometimes it’s minor and seemingly innocuous, but it’s definitely a trend.

      Reply
      1. Courageous cat

        This is very true. I don’t see any real merit in getting upset over the handshake aspect, but the larger theme here of feeling a need to comment on women’s *anything* is extremely frustrating.

        Reply
    2. General Ginger

      Same. I’ve never had comments on the actual handshake, but “oh, your hands are like ice” — tons of times.

      Reply
      1. Pollygrammer

        At least a couple times I’ve gotten the smarmy “you know wha they say, cold hands warm heart haha” follow up. Ugghh.

        Reply
    3. Gen

      I have perpetually icy hands AND no grip so a handshake with me is exactly like grasping a dead fish. I try to get out of it as much as possible because it’s absolutely agonising to shake hands with people with ‘good’ handshakes, but I’ve had some men actually reach out and grab my hand from beside me as I’m trying to explain that I don’t do it. Extra points to the manager that gave me the strongest possible handshake while I was wearing a very visible medical brace from knuckles to bicep

      Reply
    4. MechanicalPencil

      This is my problem. If I see the eyes widen, I know it’s a particularly frosty fingers day. I’ll usually make a comment about not being the undead despite the cold hands and move on.

      Reply
    5. Fish Microwaver

      Are you a woman Pollygrammer? I only ask because I have never heard a comment about icy hands made to a man as a result of a handshake. It seems to come from a place of “oh you poor cold little woman”.

      Reply
  12. 42

    I’m a woman with a great handshake and have been complimented of it a remarkable amount of times thought my adult life.

    Being complimented on it doesn’t ping my radar as offensive, a teachable moment or anything of the sort. It registers that someone has complimented me (ie, I hear the words because the person I’m greeting has spoken), and I move on with what I was doing in the first place.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Just wondering – does the information that many men are saying they have never received a comment on their handshake, and would think it very odd for another man to say this to them, give you any pause at all? Or not.

      Reply
      1. 42

        I guess not. The compliment or lack thereof of handshakes has no impact on my view of disparity between the sexes. It’s so minor on the scale of what we currently have in front of us as to be non-existent to me.

        I’m sitting here reeeeealllly thinking about it with a fresh view, and still no.

        Other categories, yes yes yes. Handshake compliment, no.

        Reply
        1. Close Bracket

          Death by 1000 paper cuts. Handshake weirdness is one of those paper cuts.

          There are always worse things, but the prohibition on women in Saudi driving doesn’t mean microaggressions don’t make my life hell.

          Reply
    2. Busibee

      Does it not strike you as weird though? Because the reason they’re “complimenting” you is that they weren’t expecting you to have a great handshake. “Wow, this great handshake from a woman is so out of the norm that I must comment on it.” As many of the men polled on Twitter said, they rarely hear it from other men or offer to other men because they either just expect a man would have a great handshake to begin with or they’d feel weird complimenting a man on how his touch feels.

      Reply
      1. 42

        I’m really really trying to think this freshly and to empathize and all, and on a scale of 1-10 it’s like at a 1 for me.

        I suppose it’s notable that complimenting isn’t universal across gender lines, of course. But beyond that, to me it’s on the same level and impact as someone complimenting me on my sweater that day (male OR female, if that matters).

        Reply
        1. Busibee

          I understand that it doesn’t bother you, I’m just trying to figure out if you really don’t see the underlying sexism in it.

          Reply
          1. 42

            As I said above, I can acknowledge that men don’t usually compliment other men on their handshakes.

            But what’s the bar for outrage? Complimenting of clothes (do men do THAT to one another)? If not, is it then sexist when a man pays a woman a genuine compliment on her jacket? The car she drives? The brand of whiskey she drinks? Her lawnmower? How well she made the double play in the company softball game? In the gym because she dead lifted her weight?

            A few of the scenarios above, men may not necessarily compliment another man over, so would it be sexist for a man to do so to a woman in those same instances?

            I don’t understand what’s being read into a handshake compliment that wouldn’t be implied on a compliment on the fact that I can dead lift my weight in the gym, or I have an enviable lawnmower, or I’m a kickass shortstop. I’m open to hearing what I’m missing.

            Reply
            1. Busibee

              I’ve heard men compliment each other on most of these examples, including clothing choices, so I think that’s part of the difference.

              I’ve definitely had men compliment me for drinking whiskey in general, which I find patronizing and a little sexist. If I order Writer’s Tears and a dude compliments the *choice* of whiskey, I think that’s fine. But if they just compliment me for drinking whiskey, that’s weird. I’ve never heard a man compliment another man for drinking whiskey.

              I think it comes down to what exactly is being complimented and why. If you’re complimenting a woman’s choice in car because you like that model or horsepower or color, that’s fine. If you’re complimenting a woman for driving a pickup truck because it’s so out of your expectations that a woman would ever do that, I think you need to re-examine your compliments.

              Reply
              1. Lil Fidget

                It’s also that, of the men who do get this comment, it’s always from older men to children. They do this to women, and to little kids. They don’t do it to equals. You may not recognize it, but it’s basically a power play.

                Reply
            2. Murphy

              I’m not seeing any outrage though. There are many reactions one can have to a phenomenon that are far short of outrate.

              Reply
              1. Lissa

                Yes, most people are just pointing this out as some underlying societal sexism going on here – nobody is suggesting that this is an outrageous horrible thing that someone has to be sexist to do, or suggesting taking one’s glove out and slapping the next man who does this across the face to challenge them to a handshake duel.

                I would be totally with you, tbh, if people were suggesting reporting these men to HR or yelling at them or even explaining at length how their compliment is sexist but nobody’s doing that. It’s just “hmm, yeah, this is irritating and shows our society is still sexist.”

                Reply
                1. Lissa

                  Ugh, fail! Not you, Murphy, I was agreeing with you and got distracted and started saying “you” to talk about the people saying it’s not worth outrage!

            3. Yorick

              The handshake compliment and the sweater compliment are qualitatively different. The handshake one comes from the idea that women are too weak (and possibly unprofessional) to give a good handshake, so a good handshake from a woman is surprising or unusual and deserves a compliment.

              In contrast, complimenting someone’s sweater doesn’t come from an expectation that they’d be wearing a horrible sweater – it is just a thought that this sweater is nice.

              Reply
            4. MCMonkeyBean

              First of all, no one is suggesting we should be OUTRAGED about the comments, just that they are annoying and undeniably sexist.

              Second, the bar is extremely easy. For every hypothetical you have posed, the question to ask is “would you say this to someone regardless of their gender?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s probably a little sexist.

              There’s nothing wrong with telling a woman you like her jacket or her car, assuming you would have no problem saying the same thing to a man.

              Reply
        2. Future Homesteader

          That’s a valid feeling! I feel differently, but I appreciate your viewpoint, and especially the thought you’ve put into it. :-) (Sorry, I’m not trying to be condescending – this just seems to be getting heated. There are multiple valid opinions/feelings about this, and I appreciate hearing yours.)

          Reply
        3. soon 2be former fed

          Yeah, after 40 years as a black woman in the professional workplace, a handshake comment wouldn’t even ping. YMMV.

          Reply
    3. MommyMD

      Because you understand it’s probably not meant to be condescending and you know when to pick your battles. We can’t go to war over every single thing. But that’s the cultural mindset right now.

      Reply
      1. 42

        Yes to the first part.

        But it’s not even a matter of picking my battles, because to me this doesn’t meet the level of a shot having been fired.

        Reply
      2. Polar Bear don't care

        For someone who’s concerned about other people “going to war over every single thing”, you’re certainly posting a lot on this topic.

        Nobody’s suggesting throwing a massive fit over it, but it is sexism and it can be and I’d say should be called out. I personally love the “Thanks, you too!” comment someone else suggested.

        Reply
        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead

          I’ve said that before without even meaning it to be some kind of call out. It was just an automatic response to a compliment along the lines of “I liked your presentation” “Thanks I liked yours too”. The complementers certainly didn’t act put out and it didn’t burn any professional bridges

          Reply
        1. LizB

          I’m seeing a trend in this thread where people are conflating the questions “Is this phenomenon the result of sexism?” and “Should the LW push back on it?,” and acting like anyone who answers Yes to the first part is by default answering “Yes, forcefully” to the second part. It’s not going to war to observe that something seems to be caused by underlying societal sexism. It’s not making a fuss or dying on a hill to ask an advice columnist, “This feels weird to me, do you think it has to do with X?”. Yeah, the LW might choose to get a little snarky about this, or she might not. But just asking the question and having it answered isn’t a call to arms.

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            And there’s miles between “Yes, that’s sexist, but it’s so minor that I’m not going to do anything,” and “I shall burn everything down in pursuit of the evil handshake complimenter.” Things like: making a bemused comment when the handshake compliment is given; talking it over with female mentors; having a frank conversation with repeat offenders in your orbit and explaining why it’s frustrating to you; reevaluating the kind of anti-sexism training your organization engages in (if any); and so on.

            It’s not wrong, or crazy, or unreasonable to want to take action on “little” things like this. That’s how we make change.

            Reply
      3. Rossa

        Exactly! It’s like, “oh there’s this minor thing that a miniscule amount of oversensitive people like to get offended about” and if you dare to disagree and say it’s no big deal you get the whole “just because you don’t think so doesn’t mean it’s not!?!” and worse “well maybe you are racist (to your own race) and/or sexist (towards tour own gender) and/or etc (to what applies to you, which is why you). It’s very curious because it seems like the “absolute truth” is then defined by the most-sensitive person that can be found, and everyone else is evil and gets a comment pileup telling them how they’re wrong. I would think an OP writing in would want a variety of perspectives instead of the groupthink that occurs among people who have nothing better to do that wage commenting wars thus inhibiting opposing views, since the less-sensitive people just smile and move on *shrug*

        Reply
        1. Snark

          You mostly seem upset that you’re getting pushback when you attempt to arbitrate the validity of people’s reactions.

          Reply
          1. Rossa

            But isn’t the other side doing the same exact thing to me (and other commenters like MommyMD who commented along similar lines)? It’s not a question of being upset but of calling out the hipocrisy. If you POV is valid the mine is as well, even if your side is more vocal (and more easily upset :)

            Reply
            1. Snark

              The difference is, you’re being a jerk about it. The opinion that this is not a hill to die on and maybe just roll with it is valid. Calling people oversensitive and dismissing them is not. If you could make your point without being confrontational, dismissive, and positioning yourself as the sexism arbiter – and you could have – it’d have gone over much better.

              Reply
              1. Rossa

                Wow, we’re name calling each now? Cool, that’s definitely a way to make me consider the validity of the rest of your argument. /s

                Reply
                1. Snark

                  I said you were being a jerk, not that you were one. There’s a distinction; I’m characterizing your tone, not you. And I can tell you I’ve benefited from taking a step away from the comments when I start digging in and taking things as personally as you now are. Feel free to get the last dig in if you feel that’s important, as I won’t respond further, but do consider a break.

                2. Pollygrammer

                  Yeah…somebody gets “a comment pileup telling them how they’re wrong” when the majority of people…think they’re wrong and can rationally (and, as far as I’m seeing, perfectly politely) share why.

                3. Courageous cat

                  Like putting in a passive-aggressive smiley face in a passive-aggressive comment is going to make other people consider the validity of yours? I would recommend not being petty and actually staying on topic of the discussion rather than derailing the conversation because you didn’t like someone’s language.

                4. name

                  Rossa, Snark is saying you’re being a jerk about it because (as they see it) you are. You may disagree about their characterization, but it’s not name calling.

              1. Rossa

                Nah, I responded to a person I agreed with and expanded on my thoughts, the upset ones are the ones name calling me. I do find the groupthink very annoying, almost as much as limp handshakes *cringe* :)

                Reply
        2. Delphine

          Calling people who are bothered by even the smallest symptom of sexism “oversensitive”…definitely making the case against yourself here.

          Reply
          1. Rossa

            It may be a symptom to you, but others see it as open to interpretation and a non-issue – and unlike you, I never called out anyone specific. If we are all free to express rational views in the comments I don’t see the need to be making or defending “a case” for myself?

            Reply
            1. Snark

              If you say something, and people disagree with it, they may reply to your post with reasons why they disagree, and challenge you to defend your point. You may of course choose to engage or not.

              And no, you called everyone out, collectively, as “oversensitive” and them dismissed them. Collective call-outs are still gonna get some clap back.

              Reply
              1. Rossa

                I would like to specify that I didn’t call any commenters not the OP oversensitive. Oversensitive by definition means ‘more sensitive than average’ and the comment above where I used that word was not referencing the specifics handshaking discussion, rather the frequent phenomenon of playing the who-has-more-right-to-feel-offended game when there is any discussion of things that by definition are opinions, not facts, and like a certain body part – we all have them and they all smell.

                I read every day but comment about twice a year, for this exact reason. State an opinion that does not go with the majority = get attacked. If you are so secure in your views, why must you bash me /others over the head with them?

                Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I think the difference is minimalizing the other person’s opinion. It’s totally ok to say, “for me, this would be minor and not worth saying anything. It’s annoying, but I don’t think it’s intentional, and so I’ve decided it doesn’t bother me.”

          But it’s different to attach a value statement to that suggestion. For example, telling someone it’s “minor” or they’re “oversensitive” is really dismissive and unkind, and it tends to stop what would otherwise be an open and earnest conversation. The fact that people might take umbrage doesn’t mean they’re engaged in “groupthink” and have “nothing better to do than wage commenting wars thus inhibiting opposing views.” The fact that others don’t take umbrage doesn’t make them inherently racist/sexist/whatnot. But upping the insult ante certainly doesn’t encourage people to share their differing perspectives.

          Reply
        4. sin nombre

          … Why don’t you smile and move on, then. With all due respect, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

          Reply
            1. sin nombre

              Yes. That is not, I’m pretty sure, in dispute.

              There’s a weird irony in certain people’s sensitivity to what they judge to be others’ over-sensitivity. It is an eternal and very frustrating mystery to me.

              Reply
        5. Jessie the First (or second)

          Your comment above insults people who are annoyed by small acts of sexism (“oversensitive” – let’s not try to quibble that calling someone oversensitive is a neutral statement) and then uses serious hyperbole to describe the reaction (claiming disagreeing with the “oversensitive” gets you labeled “evil”).

          Seriously, for the most part, these comments are just about how this is annoying, not that people who comment on handshakes are awful evil people or that this is the worst problem. And the comments to you appear directed more to your attitude that your personal feelings about this are The One Way, The Only Way, The Only One Way .

          You are free to not be bothered by small acts of sexism, you are free to consider this sort of thing not even sexist. But the “oh you are SO oversensitive” crap is obnoxious.

          Reply
        6. Plague of frogs

          “that occurs among people who have nothing better to do that wage commenting wars”

          Well, for your information I have much better things to do. I just don’t feel like doing them.

          Reply
        7. name

          Rossa, I suspect part of the reason people are responding to you as they are is that you began your engagement in this conversation by arguing that the conversation itself is not worth having, and that those who raise the topic are perhaps flawed for doing so. Whether you intended it or not, your words come across as condescending and mocking. You are welcome to disagree as to the meaning or role of sexism, but when you comment just to tell us that we’re silly to even care, you come across as disingenuous (you clearly have an opinion and consider it of some consequence, or you wouldn’t bother to comment) and irritating (interfering pointlessly in a generally productive discussion).

          Reply
      4. Snark

        I’m seeing plenty of suggestions for mildly sassy ways to push back in the moment. I’m not seeing anybody girding their loins for battle.

        Reply
      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Please imagine me saying this in Alison’s gentle and even radio voice, because that’s the tone I intend.

        With the caveat that I’m using “battle” in an informal and non-militant way, I think your point about picking battles is valid. We all have to negotiate whether we want to pick a battle, how to pick it, with whom to pick it, etc. I’m certain you’ve run into this as a doctor—I certainly run into it as someone in a profession where there is persistent sexism and often more egregious sexism than these more subtle forms of sexism. But because we don’t know OP’s situation, I don’t think it’s fair to tell her that her reaction is unreasonable or that responding to this kind of situation is “hostile” or “going to war.” I think we can only offer, “Yeah, it sucks and here’s how I react to it,” which is what your first comment provided.

        The part of your comments here and on the racial slur post that concerns me is that you often suggest that a person who decides to pick the battle is unreasonable, hysterical, or over-sensitive. I’m not sure that’s fair, and for me, it comes across as dismissive of other people’s legitimate feelings about racial/gender/etc. inequality.

        I wonder if you may read people pushing back as people trying to humiliate the offending person or assuming that the offending person is a sexist or is a racist (i.e., a “bad person”), etc. I don’t think that’s what anyone has (seriously) suggested here or in the earlier thread about racial slurs. I also think that most people do not assume a person who does something mindlessly sexist is a bad person. They just recognize that that behavior contributes to a bigger system of inequality (and is a symptom of that system), and they assume the person making the mistake is good-hearted and would want to do better.

        Reply
  13. Mike C.

    It really doesn’t help how many in the business world treats a handshake like a dominance game. Business culture is almost universally terrible, and we shouldn’t forget that.

    Reply
    1. I'll say it

      YES, thank you. “A compliment is sometimes just a compliment” is fine, but handshakes are a dominance play and it puts the other person in a different position right from the start. It’s not benign. I also think that the kind of man who does this is not the kind of man who wants to be told in the moment that it’s off-putting, but he might be the kind of man who would appreciate a heads up at another more discreet time. But like lots of things, it’s something women have to put up with in order to play the game. SMH.

      Reply
    2. Snark

      One time, I was shaking hands with a real Art of the Deal type, and he was doing the ME SILVERBACK YOU BONOBO thing. But I’ve been rock climbing for 2o years, and, well. It ended sadly for him. I don’t play dominance games, but I do have an ego, and if you’re a smarmy dude who thinks wearing a chartreuse shirt under a charcoal suit while is a thing, I’m down for whatever.

      Reply
        1. Snark

          Yep. Maybe a little more towards lime. My wife leaned over after he walked away and whispered “Punchable as fuuuuuuuuck” into my ear.

          Reply
      1. Antilles

        Another fun trick with these kinds of people is to not end the handshake.
        See, most of those Macho Bro types *also* tend to treat stopping the handshake as a dominance game (you let go first, you little wimp, that means I win!) and therefore their ego cannot allow them to let go and end the handshake. So you can have a lot of fun by keeping the handshake going and watching their face get super uncomfortable. You can usually visibly see their brains kicking into overdrive to decide whether it’s better to let go (and lose the dominance game) or refuse to let go and basically end up awkwardly holding hands.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          I actually had a (very inebriated) conversation about how human culture would be different if we’d evolved from bonobos with my wife and some friends of ours recently. “Great to meet you, wanna go get each other off?”

          35 going on 12, that’s us.

          Reply
    3. Kate 2

      Yes. The one upmanship is so annoying. I disagree with Allison. I suspect OP is a hand crusher, like most men I’ve encountered, and that’s why they compliment her. I work in a very conservative field which is almost entirely men, so I see the more extreme end of that culture, which I think lets me recognize less extreme ends of the continuum more clearly.

      Maybe Allison is right, but the idea of a good handshake being nearly breaking the other person’s fingers it is so “firm” and “strong” (what people really mean when they say that) is pervasive. I have never met a female hand crusher, but I bet OP is one and doesn’t realize it, and the women she shakes with have never had the opportunity or reason to tell her.

      I haven’t told any of the hand crushers I know, although now I feel like I should, they haven’t asked for feedback and that is kind of an awkward thing to spring on someone. I think OP should shake hands with family and friends, maybe even ask a few people in a coffee shop, and see what they say. The coffee shop thing can be a little awkward, but I find total strangers will be a lot more honest than people who care about you, even when you beg them to be honest.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        Am not OP, but I am a total bone-grinding hand crusher with men. This is on purpose: the headmistress of my high school taught us to do this specifically to scare sexist men who are usually expecting a limp dead fish handshake and poised to hold my delicate (cold, usually a little sweaty or recently-lotion-slimed) hand like a porcelain teacup. I work in a very male dominated field and it has served me well. Who is in charge of this meeting? ME, m****rfker.

        Women get a normal firm handshake.

        Reply
        1. Teapot librarian

          If someone crushes my hand, I crush back. Otherwise I *think* I have a nice, normal, not dead fish handshake.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            This is me, too. I believe in a firm but not excessive handshake, but if you come for me, I will literally crush your fingers.

            Reply
        2. Trout 'Waver

          Please don’t do that.

          The surprise hand-crusher is not fun. If you know it’s coming, you can play a little defense. But when it comes out of nowhere, it’s annoying. I’d be side-eying you hard for that.

          Reply
        3. Kate 2

          Wow, I love this! I have hobbies where I work with my hands, so they’re pretty strong. Maybe I’ll do this next time! : )

          Reply
    4. CG

      Yes yes yes yes yes (be right back, gotta go look at the video for that infamous Macron-Trump handshake again)

      Saying this to a woman MIGHT NOT be an indication of surprise that a woman can hold her own in a workplace dominance display, but it might be. Just like a white person saying, “wow, you’re so eloquent” to a PoC at work MIGHT NOT be an indication of surprise that a non-white person could elucidate clear and intelligent thought, but it might be.

      Reply
  14. Justin

    As a small guy, I’ve always found this manly “crush the other person’s bones” thing to be absurd. I’ve never really thought much about mine. People probably think it’s weak. I’m not changing it now.

    It’s indeed very weird. All of it is weird.

    Reply
    1. Pollygrammer

      Let us briefly touch palms! Let us briefly indulge in mutual judgment and/or revulsion at relative strength, temperature and moistness of one another’s hands! Let us hope that everyone is satisfactorily sanitary in their personal habits, but remain fairly certain they are not

      Handshakes are super weird.

      Reply
    2. Hills to Die on

      The hand smashing is the worst. People who do that seem to think that the harder the shake the better, but it’s so much worse. And odd.

      Reply
  15. The German Chick

    “Thanks, yours is […insert truthful description, even if slightly offensive]”
    Nothing wrong with giving a little akwardness back!

    Reply
  16. KR

    OP, I’m so jealous you have a good handshake! I have very small hands so it’s really difficult for me to give most men a good firm handshake. I should practice with my husband one of these days.

    And yeah, the compliments are wierd. This definitely isn’t a wierd quirk of yours. The patronizing compliments of being a young woman in the working world are SO annoying.

    Reply
  17. Myrin

    I’m both surprised and not surprised to hear the results of that Twitter poll and the experiences here (although the OP’s “four or five times in two days” seems like an awful lot even when you’re already bracing yourself for it!) – not surprised because there still are so many people who see women as weaker in every aspect and as such are taken off-guard by demonstrations to the opposite; and yes surprised because I’ve personally only gotten this like twice or thrice in my life, even though I’ve always been small and have always had a firm handshake.
    (There are other areas in my life that make me think I must have a specific kind of “aura” that makes people not react to me the way they do to others, and apparently that extends to handshakes as well.)

    Reply
  18. Just Peachy

    I tend to agree with Alison on this.

    I work in a small office that is about 80% men. One time, myself and about eight coworkers were in a meeting with our boss. Our newest salesperson (a man in his late 40’s) asked me what year I was born. I told him ‘1993’, to which he responded “OMG, that’s hilarious! A 24 year old girl in your role!” How is the year that I’m born along with my gender hilarious? I do a great job at work, and am very well respected by most of my coworkers, so it was embarrassing for him to say that my age was “hilarious” in front of my coworkers.

    Reply
    1. Future Homesteader

      Ugh. I’m sorry that happened to you. How long have you been in that position? We have someone I work with who is a similar age, and while she got a lot of crap at the beginning, it’s (mostly) tapered off. People now just think of her as the super awesome worker she is.

      Reply
      1. Just Peachy

        I’ve been here for 2.5 years. As I mentioned, most of my coworkers are very respectful towards me, and frequently acknowledge my good work. Fortunately, the man who made the “that’s hilarious!” comment towards me usually works out of another office, so I only see him a few times a month.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          “Girl” is also horrendously offensive to call a professional woman. You would never refer to a coworker as “boy” and in fact that was a slur against men of color. I remember my board president referring to an executive director candidate as “she seems like a great girl” (she was 50 plus if she was a day) and literally not knowing who he could possibly be talking about.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            I’m reminded of my grandfather, who referred to any woman more than 20 years younger than he as “little girl” or a “little gal.” He died at 91; it was getting farcical there at the end.

            Reply
        2. Lora

          Good heavens. I favor a ridiculous answer to such questions, which fortunately I haven’t had to answer in a long time – when you hit 35 or so, you can reply with the most bone chilling glare and snarl, “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” in a tone that implies lightning is about to strike them dead. In the meantime, you can make up a number: 1742, 1805, whatever sounds like fun. If people try to be cute and say, “you look pretty young, haha!” you can always make a comment about how the Botox is worth every penny or your secret is the blood of virgins every full moon or whatever.

          They usually listen when their fellow men explain to them that asking a woman’s age is Not Done. That they don’t listen to YOU telling them they’ve been rude is another issue…

          Reply
    2. Snark

      The frosty “Why do you ask?” or “What an odd question to ask a colleague” is a good tool to have in your hip pocket in situations like that. I can’t speak to the gender dynamic at work here – I’m a dude – but as a guy who looked five years younger than his actual age for most of his life until he grew a beard, this is SUCH an annoying discussion to have.

      Reply
    3. Lily Rowan

      And here’s the difference between normal people and jerks: I am continually surprised by the fact that people born when I was an adult are now adults themselves, but I KEEP IT TO MYSELF. Or talk about it with my same-age friends. Period.

      You are an adult and a colleague.

      Reply
      1. Just Peachy

        I can assure you people like myself appreciate people like you who keep it to yourselves. :)

        I mean, I think it’s weird that most high school kids are born post-2000, but I don’t go around telling seniors in high school that it’s “hilarious” that they were born in 2000!

        Even my boss (who I generally like and respect) made a snarky comment to other people in my age group in my recent annual review. On professionalism, he rated me a 5/5, with a comment that said, “She doesn’t act like the typical millennial. She is very professional.” It’s somewhat annoying to me that he made the assumption that people my age are “typically” not professional. I’m the only millennial he manages, so I’m not sure what basis he’s going off of!

        Reply
    1. The New Wanderer

      Me too. I only remember getting one comment ever, from a woman who was interviewing me (female, and a college student at the time). She said my grip was “too firm” but she also tried to give me a limp fingers handshake and I went in for a regular handshake.

      I don’t recall any comments from men in my 20+ years of office life. Hopefully that just means my handshake meets expectations. :-P

      Reply
    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

      Me too. Not since at school and practicing handshakes with a teacher (teacher was a woman, and comments were similar to boy and girl students) or as a teen preparing for my first job interviews and my mother wanted to check if my handshake gives a good impression… after that, no comments, positive or negative. Now I’m wondering what’s wrong with my handshake… Or am I just so confident looking that nobody expects me to do the dead fish thing? Or maybe, as most comments here are probably from completely different countries and cultures than mine, maybe it’s just not a thing here? I mean, I’ve shaken hands with many dead fish people, mostly women and definitely not foreigners, but I think it’s commonly taught that a firm handshake is a good thing for everybody.

      Reply
  19. NoMoreIdentityPolitics!

    Please, do not be ridiculous. I love your great advice! How do you differentiate between men and women? If you had to describe each separately?

    Reply
            1. NoMoreIdentityPolitics!

              Men have testosterone and women have estrogen, regardless if it’s 2018. Each size has differences about them that make them that way (pathological/psychologically). Hence why handshakes are something that you often find men commenting on and women receiving the comments (not necessarily bad!). OP was fair in what she stated, however Alison I believe turned it into another identity politics commentary! Is there overtly sexist behavior in office? ABSOLUTELY. But we don’t need to count every little thing we see (even though it has a pattern) and attach it to that label and label and label and label and label.

              Reply
              1. CorporateQueer

                Respectfully, both men and women produce estrogen and testosterone, it’s just that most women produce more estrogen than men and most men produce more testosterone than women. I don’t want to go too far into the weeds or off-topic, but biology is very complicated. I also think you may have meant “physiologically” rather than “pathologically”. I don’t believe that Alison was saying that any men acted maliciously here, rather that their behavior had a sexist pattern that may be troubling to some women.

                Reply
  20. CorporateQueer

    So, I have a bit of a unique perspective on this, as I’m a FtM person (female to male). Personally, while I was presenting as female, I had far more men comment on my handshake (never women, though). When I started presenting more “butch”, and now more masculine, the comments stopped. (However, I still heard it directed towards female coworkers). I’m not sure if that’s due to my perceived gender or not, but I found it interesting.

    Reply
    1. Temperance

      I’m sure it was related to your gender presentation. I’ve never heard the comment directed at any of my male coworkers or interns.

      Reply
      1. CorporateQueer

        I haven’t either. It strikes me as pretty sexist, really. I don’t think there’s any malice there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not harmful.

        Reply
    2. Rookie Manager

      If you don’t mind sharing on the open thread I’d be interested to hear any other differences you’ve noticed. You still have the same knowledge/skills but present differently, what does and doesn’t get a reaction.

      As a young(ish) woman I offen get comments on things like owning power tools/being the driver in the household/being a manager/ability to use logic that I don’t believe should be impacted by my genitals.

      Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Ooh I would be super interested in this. I remember a prior article from someone who transitioned from female to male and he noted how much more her word was respected now. I couldn’t find the original interview but did find a Time article I’ll link to in reply to this one.

          Reply
          1. Lora

            Were you thinking of Ben Barres? That was who leapt to my mind – a neurobiologist at Stanford who noted a lot of changes in how he was treated post-transition, when people mistook his pre-transition work for that of an imaginary sister. He just died last month of pancreatic cancer, sadly.

            Reply
    3. Jennifer Thneed

      Oh, thank you. Very interesting.

      This is all odd to me and always has been. I’m female and queer and I started shaking adults’ hands in about 1980, when I was 18. Sometimes they were surprised to have a hand thrust at them, but they always shook my hand and never commented on it. (Or if they did, it was age-related rather than gender-related and I don’t remember in any case.)

      Somehow, with nobody teaching me, I have always had a firm handshake, and so many other women had soft ones. (Happily that’s changed.) I’ve never had the “bone-crushing” handshake, but then again, I am continuously female and average-sized. Maybe I’ve never gotten any comments because I’ve never been particularly feminine? Dunno.

      Reply
  21. John

    It may be patronizing, but I’d wager very few of those men meant it that way. I’m sure they appreciated the firm handshake. Saying “you too” seems like a decent response if you’re inclined to respond.

    Not sure burning a ton of calories thinking about it is worth it, but letter writer should do whatever makes her feel better about situation.

    Reply
    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      It doesn’t actually matter if each individual man means anything by it; the problem is in the cumulative.

      It’s demeaning for a woman to be constantly praised for “acting like a man.” There’s implied surprise and delight: “Well, well, well, here we have a woman who can do man things, ain’t that great?”

      So much is embedded in these little comments. An assumption that the way men typically do things is better. Surprise that a woman can do what men can do. The unexamined belief that praising a woman for doing something masculine is a compliment. Saying the backhanded compliment out loud, and suppressing irritation when it’s not received in the way it was intended (… she’s just too sensitive, the world is too PC, ugh).

      Men who are making these comments are blithely running through all of the above without giving a moment’s thought or concern to the women involved. Which leaves the women exhausted by having to put up with it (and a million other microaggressions) every day.

      Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        Or maybe they just expect women to shake hands more weakly because the last 10 women they shook hands with did so. And they tactless blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

        That seems more likely than running through a mental checklist on how to oppress women.

        Reply
        1. Jennifer Thneed

          Sure! That’s why this kind of thing is called “microaggressions”. Nobody is doing it on purpose, but it’s still happening. Everyone who does it does it “only once” but the recipient gets it all the time. It’s like tall people getting comments about basketball All.The.Time. There, it’s just annoying, but it’s a real thing that really happens.

          Reply
          1. Trout 'Waver

            Victoria Nonprofit (USA) specifically said:

            Men who are making these comments are blithely running through all of the above without giving a moment’s thought or concern to the women involved.

            My comment was a direct rebuttal to that; I think in most instances it’s a tactless comment and not an intent to oppress.

            As a side note, I really hate the word microaggression. The base of the word implies a motive to do violence or be hostile, but the word is commonly used to describe actions caused by ignorance of societal or institutional biases.

            Reply
            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              Because we live in a society that privileges and values men over women (and both over other genders), it’s a fair assumption that gender prejudice is informing any given behavior.

              In your example — if we assume that the man who says this to the OP for the sixth time this week did so because he was surprised to discover that she was the rare woman who had a firm handshake — the man in question is still ignoring the social construct he lives in.

              Why is a firm handshake considered good (and therefore worthy of complimenting)? It’s because we think that a powerful grip — one that men are more likely to give, given their physical build and as a result of the social training they’ve received — is better than a weaker grip. There’s nothing objective about that. It’s not objectively more pleasant to have your hand squeezed firmly than to briefly touch your fingers together; we’ve just decided that it’s better (and deciding that it’s better has wormed itself into our consciousness so much that we may believe that it’s an individual, objective preference).

              And even if, by some miracle, your hypothetical man isn’t indoctrinated in the way we all are, he is still ignoring the social reality that it’s not cool to compliment a woman on how well she mimics male standards.

              Reply
              1. Trout 'Waver

                Wow, it’s good to know that my objective individual preference is nothing but a sexist societal construct.

                Snarkiness aside, a firm handshake is considered good because it’s a greeting, and it is generally best to make your greetings loud and clear rather than vague. If the custom was touching fingers, then you’d expect people to make deliberate motions rather than just waggle their fingers around. Think about the message someone sends when they mutter their name during an introduction. It’s kinda the same thing.

                Also, your use of hyperbole isn’t really constructive.

                Reply
                1. name

                  The issue isn’t that people prefer firm handshakes, it’s whether there are assumptions or expectations that women are less likely to have the preferred handshake style, which are then communicated through compliments directed disproportionately at women (compliments suggesting that there is something noteworthy about an otherwise mundane behavior). If all of the men complimenting the letter writer on her handshake are also similarly complimenting men (or if men were also finding themselves frequently complimented on the strength of their handshakes), I would take that as evidence against this being rooted in sexism. I have not, however, found that to be the case.

            2. Jennifer Thneed

              > actions caused by ignorance of societal or institutional biases

              The problem is that all those individual tiny actions accumulate into some real trauma. So the word is good for the recipients’ outcome, if not for each instance.

              Reply
          2. Oilpress

            Yeah, but it really doesn’t amount to much. What are the consequences of being complimented on your handshake?

            Reply
            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              To be blunt, you don’t get to decide for other people how much sexist microaggressions should bother them (even if you’re also a woman).

              Reply
  22. Quickbeam

    I’m a woman and I get this all the time (I’m 62 so not a youth thing). I’m a rabid feminist and this doesn’t bother me at all. I always say “golf!” and it gets a laugh. I do a lot of promotional work for my company and it seems an ice breaker to me.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      I complimented a female coworker for her parking, but she’d just parallel parked a giant Sprinter van on the street in Austin with about a foot of clearance at each end, and not only me but random passersby were applauding. No radar, even!

      Reply
      1. Murphy

        That one doesn’t bother me. A good parallel park should be celebrated.

        Also I’m from an area where parallel parking is common and I now live in one where it’s not, so it gets extra attention when I do it. (It’s apparently not even on the driver’s test!)

        Reply
        1. Trout 'Waver

          Totally agree. I moved from big East Coast City to Rural Town, USA. I’ve had complete strangers cross the street to compliment my parallel parking ability multiple times. And I’m a guy.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            When I moved to a small rural town in New Mexico, I discovered I drive like a MANIAC, relatively speaking. Like, just my normal Denver-area driving habits, and in comparison to the locals I looked like I was fleeing my latest bank robbing murder spree.

            Reply
            1. JeanB in NC

              When I moved to Boston I realized my thoughts about Texas drivers being lunatics were completely and totally inaccurate. Boston drivers are the lunatics!

              Reply
              1. Close Bracket

                I lived in both, too. Texas drivers are just fast. Boston drivers pull some interesting moves. Try crossing the river and driving through Cambridge or Somerville. Those people were really tolerant of my Texan inability to understand intersections that weren’t 90 degrees.

                Reply
            2. LadyKelvin

              I moved to Hawaii from Miami and DC and really had to be careful about being polite when I drive. In Miami its every car for themselves, and yeah if I realize that I need to turn left and am in the far right lane, I will just turn across 3 lanes of traffic and kill almost everyone. In Hawaii I have had people stop at green lights (!) to let me turn right on red. They take the “Drive with aloha” very seriously, which is actually pretty nice. Turning, merging, etc is much easier when people are happy to let you in.

              Reply
            3. medium of ballpoint

              Native New Mexican here, and my family has long joked about establishing Cholo Olympics, where one of the events would be seeing who could do the slowest quarter mile in their low rider. And while we might not be much for speedy driving, we drive drunk like it’s a wonderful idea everyone should get behind. Oy.

              Reply
      2. Rookie Manager

        That is impressive and deserving of compliments! I’m meaning more the parking a standard estate car in a average clearance parallel park.

        Reply
      3. TotesMaGoats

        Yeah, people who can parallel park in heavy traffic and/or odd size cars should be celebrated. I’ve gotten better but still avoid parallel parking in my mid-size city. Props to anyone who can pull that off.

        Reply
      4. blackcat

        In my teacher days, I once parallel parked a small (14 seats + driver) bus. It’s roughly the same size as the 14ft uhauls that you see around.

        The kids and my coworker on the bus broke out in applause. I earned it.

        (I also agree with Murphy that my parallel parking skills got way more comments when I lived in an area where it was possible to avoid learning. I grew up in a city and now live in a city. I still struggle with parallel parking on the driver’s side sometimes, but I can generally fit my car into just about anything. It was highly noteworthy when I lived in the south. Now, in Boston, my skills are average. The bus parking was in the south.)

        Reply
      5. Aurion

        I always admire people who can parallel park well. I hate it (but then again, I hate driving in general).

        Like most things, parallel parking gets better with practice…but mistakes usually incur scratches or worse on cars (mine and others’) so I’m not very inclined to practice. :P

        Reply
        1. Raine

          Are we the same person? Driving is the worst. I appreciate the freedom it has given me but it makes me so anxious. I don’t parallel park unless I can just pull up to the curb or back straight along the curb for at least ten feet.

          Reply
    2. all aboard the anon train

      Also, taking your hand and kissing it instead of shaking it. It’s gross and uncomfortable and does not belong in a business situation.

      Reply
      1. antigone_ks

        Someone did this to me at a conference, and I was so shocked I jerked away and went “whaaaaAAT?” Then we gave each other D-: faces and never spoke again.

        Reply
      2. Close Bracket

        Oh, I would not respond well to this. I have the aspie distaste for being touched, and while hands are ok, mouths are most definitely not.

        Reply
    3. Elizabeth H.

      Wait! Is being good at parallel parking associated with gender stereotypes in any way?? It seems totally random to me. (I mean I think it takes skill rather than something you’re born with, but like random across genders)

      Reply
      1. Snark

        I think it’s just patronizing women who don’t conform to some real hoary old stereotypes about how women can’t drive.

        Reply
        1. Rookie Manager

          That’s the one. ‘Women can’t park’ fits into all those stereotypes about spacial awareness and the like. Incidentally it was my dad who insisted on me being an excellent parallel parker so men wouldn’t be rude about my driving as he had seen/heard so many times before. Unfortunately despite his excellent teaching I have not escaped the comments.

          Reading all these comments I should note I am very much a city driver and learnt in a capital city… I can park on a postage stamp if its the only space left!

          Reply
      2. CMart

        Being good at *parallel* parking is a skill not innate among any gender. I think complimenting someone on a good parallel job is deserved.

        Being complimented on being able to park a normal car between two lines in a grocery store parking lot is extremely patronizing and mostly aimed at the little ladies whose papa taught them well (insert eye roll)

        Reply
      3. Plague of frogs

        In my high school auto shop class, we watched a video about car design history, and for some reason part of it showed a woman trying to parallel park and men making sexist comments about it. While we watched the video, some of my fellow students added their own sexist comments.

        But on the first test, I got 95% and the rest of the class–some 30 people–failed and had to retake the test. The teacher congratulated me in front of the whole class. The difference between me and the rest of the class was that I knew I didn’t know much and studied really hard, and the rest of the class assumed they knew it all and so didn’t study.

        Reply
        1. Merci Dee

          I work for an automotive parts supplier headquartered in a certain Asian country, and we frequently get magazines sent over from HQ that presents new products in development or coming to market. Several years ago, one of the articles mentioned the parking assist feature that had just been released, and explained that it was really helpful for parallel parking and for “female drivers”. I think all the women in my section hit that phrase at the same time — we popped up over our cube walls like a colony of meerkats, eyes wide, while we sputtered and tore our magazines to shreds.

          Reply
      4. Lissa

        there’s a thing, yeah I’ve heard guys try to make it a biological thing – women have naturally less spatial awareness so they can’t parallel park! And of course related to the haha women can’t drive thing.

        Reply
      5. Close Bracket

        Yes, actually, for run of the mill parallel parking. It tends to be shocking that a woman would develop that skill. Parking in general is associated with gendered stereotypes.

        Reply
  23. STG

    I can’t remember if anyone has ever said anything about my handshake and I don’t think I’ve ever said anything about anyone else’s handshake. Always seemed like an odd ritual to me though and I won’t typically initiate one.

    Reply
  24. J.

    This is one thousand percent sexist. My ex-husband would try to “correct” my handshake every time one happened. (It sounds weirder than it is to have been shaking hands with my husband, it would be in the context of like “bet you five dollars your friend you invited to dinner is going to be an hour late again.”) I could write 20,000 words about all the ways in which this guy was deeply overinvested in heteronormative gender-role BS, but I’ll just go with the last of these indicators that popped up before I finally moved out: I bought new collars for all of our dogs, and he objected to a rich teal as a “gender-bending” color for a male dog’s collar. No word on whether this was some kind of projected overcompensation for the fact that the dog doesn’t have its balls anymore.

    Reply
  25. Former Borders Refugee

    I deliberately cultivated a firm handshake, with the option of adding a slight shade of a “don’t mess with me” squeeze.

    Yeah, men comment on it ALL THE TIME.

    Reply
    1. lulu

      I’ve never had anyone comment on my handshake. Feeling pretty self-conscious about it now, I never thought I was terrible at hand-shaking but I guess I am!

      Reply
  26. Kate, Short for Bob

    If that happened to me my eyebrows would immediately hit my hairline, but then I’m never too far from active bitch face

    Reply
  27. Lily in NYC

    I always get this comment – I am surprised at how many people (not just women) have wimpy handshakes and think that is much of the reason people say something. I’ve heard men on my team get the same comment so I never took it to be sexist. I simply respond that I have strong hands from playing the piano. As a minor germaphobe, I just wish handshaking in general would die out.

    Reply
  28. Damaged Hands Girl

    I can’t give handshakes at all, and it’s because of people who give firm handshakes. I have nerve and joint damage in my hands, so an ordinary, non-crushy but assertive handshake is excruciatingly painful. Even before my hands were damaged, though, sometimes big men would painfully CRUSH my tiny hand (my hands are quite small) and I’d think “WTF, what are you trying to prove?!”. And it would seriously sour me on that person. At least no one has ever gotten on my case for not being able to shake at all anymore.

    Reply
    1. Marie

      I have this problem due to medical issue that affects the joints. Usually if someone holds out a hand for me to shake I explain it away quickly something like “I don’t want you to think I’m being rude but I can’t shake hands due to a medical issues in my hands”. Most people accept this quite readily but some people (specifically men over about 40 I have noticed) get really offended.

      I went to Japan last year on an exchange programme and the Japanese cultural norm is to bow instead of shake hands. I found this much much better, it is very hard to screw up bowing to someone and it avoids the awkwardness that comes with handshakes such as sweaty palms, how hard to grip etc.

      Reply
    1. Close Bracket

      I can’t comment on your specific situation, but in general, women also engage in sexist behavior, esp. if they think they aren’t like other women.

      Reply
  29. Wondering

    Tips for a good handshake? I normally don’t do a lot of handshaking, but I’m starting a new job soon and I’ve heard I will be meeting LOTS of VIPs. I know totally limp and crushing are bad- what should I be aiming for?

    Reply
    1. LizB

      The web of your hand (the skin between thumb and index finger) should touch the web of the other person’s hand. I generally squeeze with about the amount of force I’d use to test the ripeness of a pear, and that seems like a happy medium.

      Reply
    2. MassMatt

      What Liz B said. Contact should be palm to palm, not tips of fingers to palm. There should be a squeeze but it should be friendly, not a strength contest. Make eye contact. Adjust your squeeze and length of contact to what the other person is doing. Practice with a few friends or colleagues and ask for feedback and you’ll have it down in minutes.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        So agree, the main trick is to MAKE EYE CONTACT and smile slightly or just look reasonably pleasant. The “firm grip” thing is somewhat overplayed. A good handshake is an unobjectionable one.

        Reply
    3. Purplesaurus

      Someone would make bank if they invented a handshake simulation dummy to help people with questions like these.

      Reply
    4. Lil Fidget

      To be honest when I think about this, there are a few minority of handshakes that I have really had a positive feeling about – but I suspect it’s beyond your control and in the most cases you’re just aiming to do an acceptable one. I suspect that the really positive one had something more to do with their hand size and temperature or the way it fit into my hand than the pressure. Sometimes it almost has a momentary feeling like a warm hug (in a good way). I don’t know if someone else would agree that my “exceptional handshake person” was exceptional for them.

      Reply
  30. TotesMaGoats

    I’ve always gotten compliments/comments on my handshake. I’ve intentionally cultivated a firm grip. First because I believe a firm handshake is a good professional behavior. Second because a handshake can be a used as a power play and I may be 4’11’ and look like I’m 12 but I don’t play. But unless the comments are extra smarmy, I take them as they are and keep stepping.

    The sexism angle is not one I’ve considered although I’m sure it’s there is subtle and overt ways. If the comments bother you personally, then finding a way respond that you feel comfortable with would be the way to go.

    Weak, limp handshakes weird me out.

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Prime

      Why, though? Some people may be physically incapable of giving firm handshakes, people in some cultures prefer weak handshakes over firm ones, and other people just think handshakes are weird in general. It doesn’t really say anything about a person’s character or ability to do work or anything other than physical prowess and specific cultural expectations.

      Reply
      1. MassMatt

        But that’s just it, there IS a specific cultural expectation, and it’s to have a firm shake, not crushing, with eye contact during introduction. Maybe it seems ridiculous that a greeting ritual is used to make personal judgments but that is the purpose of the greeting ritual.

        As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and in much of the world (especially in business) that includes a handshake.

        Reply
      2. TotesMaGoats

        I do my best not to judge or assume anything about the person. Only that it physically feels weird. Like my brain is going “why are you shaking a dishrag?” I’m certainly aware that they are physical limitations on how someone might or might not be able to shake.

        Reply
      3. Courageous cat

        It totally (sometimes) does say things about a person’s character though. It can absolutely mean the person is a germophobe or more easily weirded out by others or feels that it is considered more feminine (particularly if a woman).

        None of that is necessarily a bad thing, and it’s definitely not true for ALL limp handshakes by any means, but I don’t think it’s true that it never indicates anything whatsoever about the person.

        Reply
  31. Teapot librarian

    Similarly, I work with a number of men who insist that it is polite to make women go through the door/enter the elevator first. Not to offer, but to insist. I’d venture that about 50% of the population find this polite and 50% find it sexist and patronizing. I’m in the latter group; I put up with it most of the time, but when someone who otherwise treats me differently because I’m a woman does it, I will dig my heels in.

    Reply
    1. KatieKate

      Comment twins! Seriously, what is it with them? I almost want to start asking “why” or just ignore them and wait for the elevator to close.

      Reply
      1. Oilpress

        I prefer not to, but sometimes I do it for fear of being scolded. A woman in a much more senior position than me once scolded me for not letting her board an elevator first. She did it in front of the other 5-6 people on the elevator at the time. So that sucked.

        Men sometimes treat women differently not because they think women need their help but rather because men don’t want to hear the negative comments if they don’t do it. Ever wonder why a man often pays for the first date? It’s not because they feel women need the money.

        Reply
    2. Busibee

      Oh lord, the worst is EXITING the elevator. I’ve had situations where I’m crammed into an elevator with like eight other people and when we get to the lobby, the men try to contort themselves in crazy ways to make sure the women get out first. JUST GET OFF THE DAMN ELEVATOR ALREADY! The doors are going to close by the time you figure out how to Twister yourself into position to let me out.

      Reply
      1. Luna

        This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I don’t care whether it’s sexist, it’s more that I just want people to GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!

        Reply
      2. MassMatt

        I actually thought that exactly for this reason, elevators are exempt from the “ladies first” rule, I believe I read that somewhere—Miss Manners?

        Reply
        1. Busibee

          That message has not made it to New York City, apparently.

          Funnily enough, it was never an issue when I lived in the Midwest, but once I got out here, it became so frequent that it was comical.

          Reply
        2. Accountress

          Elevators count as a moving vehicle, so men should enter first and exit first, to show women that it has fully stopped and safe to move into/out of.

          I once told that to an older man in my office’s parking garage when he claimed it was proper etiquette, and he responded that it was ingrained and he couldn’t see himself shaking it up. “Oh, so it’s not really etiquette you care about, it’s a habit you’re unwilling to change. That’s cool, too.”

          Going forward, he started taking the stairs when he saw me.

          Reply
      3. Guacamole Bob

        A thousand times this. I can deal with having doors held for me, or someone gesturing me into an elevator first or whatever – totally unnecessary but it’s not worth making a big thing over. But the elevator exit acrobatics drive me insane.

        When I was a young woman in a conservative industry (early 2000’s), I noticed that many middle-aged and older men made the door-holding and whatnot feel pretty effortless on both sides, because it was so deeply ingrained in how they moved through the world. I would have preferred that the system were different, but the system was at least functional. The young men, though, thought they were “supposed to” do things like hold doors for me but hadn’t really grown up with it, so they would forget until the last second, or they’d sometimes do it and sometimes not, and it ended up being much showier and more obnoxious as we all did this stupid little dance every time we went through a door or got on an elevator.

        Reply
      4. swingbattabatta

        I deeply hate this. Partially because it is so awkward and illogical, and partly because sometimes I’d have to brush up against people to get out. Soooooo uncomfortable.

        Reply
      5. Jennifer Thneed

        I have flat-out told people (ahem, men) to get out first because that makes it easier for me to get out.

        I also told the (early 20’s) man who was letting me go ahead of him to the elevator *that he was closer to* that it actually wasn’t polite because his delay meant that we both missed that car.

        And while we’re at it (this one is gender-free), if you’re in front of the door of a crowded car (elevator OR train), step out to let other people out. You can be the first one to step back in, but geezus stop blocking the crowd!

        Reply
      6. Accountress

        I’m plus sized, and I have had to tell guys who were standing in front of me, pressing against each other to let me out first, “Look, some of you are going to have to leave the elevator for me to get out- there is no way I can squeeze past you, I am too wide.” They did them yield to my superior knowledge, so that’s something, but my shoulder still got nailed by the closing door.

        Like, it’s fine, no one is going to call your grandmother on the party line and snitch that you were mean to a girl because you didn’t let her out first.

        Reply
    3. Rookie Manager

      One of my reports does this. He also insists on walking on the road side of the pavement – even if that means getting in the way of my crutch. He says it is only good manners to stop a lady being splashed by a car.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        !!

        It could be worth pointing out to him that he’s applying (antiquated) social manners in a professional setting, which is an etiquette violation itself. You could explain to him that professional manners are gender-blind. And that’s before we even get into the rudeness of getting in the way of your crutch in his zeal to be mannerly.

        Reply
        1. Rookie Manager

          We are working on it! As we rarely walk outside the office together it is further down the list. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that professional adult woman are no longer referred to as “girls”.

          Reply
        2. AMPG

          I once had to explain to a male intern that he shouldn’t be helping his female colleagues put their coats on, and used the guideline, “If you wouldn’t do it for a male colleague, don’t do it for me.”

          Reply
    4. all aboard the anon train

      My view on this is if they’re right in front of me, it’s polite to hold the door open. Not just for me, a woman, but for anyone who is behind them. The same goes for men who go out of their way to hold open a door if someone is carrying something with both arms or they might need help opening the door on their own (on crutches, pushing a stroller, etc.). I think this is just common courtesy regardless of gender.

      I only get annoyed when a man makes a huge effort to run up to the door when he’s far behind me or holds it open for five minutes while waiting for me to reach it. That’s when I find it patronizing because it’s clear they’re only doing it because I’m a woman. Same goes for rushing to open a car door or pull out a chair. To me, it reeks of the type of chivalry that treats women as fragile creatures who are incapable of existing in the world without a man to look after them.

      Reply
      1. all aboard the anon train

        And by hold the door open, I mean in whatever way is the simplest. Whether it’s standing with it open and letting other people enter/exit before them, or entering/exiting first and holding it open so the person behind you can grab it instead of letting the door slam in their face.

        Reply
      2. Teapot librarian

        Exactly–common courtesy vs “women are helpless creatures.” There’s a way to be courteous without being sexist.

        Reply
      3. Murphy

        Yes, agreed. There’s holding the door for a person right behind you and then there is I MUST HOLD THIS DOOR FOR THIS WOMAN.

        (Exception: When I was very pregnant. I appreciated the acknowledgement of my constant struggle for mobility.)

        Reply
        1. nnn

          The other day I saw this guy making such an effort to hold the door for the woman behind him that he didn’t seem to realize he was completely blocking the path of two other women coming in the other direction, who wanted to pass through the other door

          Reply
      4. oranges & lemons

        I think I’ve told this story before, but this reminds me of the guy I encountered on a bus once who kept making a big show of leaping out of his seat, running to the other send of the bus, and insisting that any standing women take his seat.

        Reply
    5. Merida Ann

      This was so confusing for me when I moved from the Midwest to the South for my first job out of college. I’d be at the back of the elevator with a bunch of guys and the doors would open and they would all just stare at me instead of getting off, so that I had to squeeze past them all to get off first. Or a guy would be giving me a tour of a building, but he would stop at every doorway and wait for me to pass him, go through first, then wait awkwardly for him to take the lead again because I had no idea where I was going. And usually they wouldn’t even say “you first” or anything, they would just stare at me like I should know I had to pass through every doorway first and it was a totally new concept to me and so ridiculous that I would just stare back because I had no idea what they were waiting for.

      The one incident that stands out most in my mind as most egregious was going through the two pairs of double doors leading into my office while walking with a male coworker. He held the first door open for me, so I got to the second door first and returned the courtesy by holding it for him. And he flat out refused to go through the door. He just stood there and said he wasn’t going to let me hold the door for him and I said “Well, I’m here, I’m holding the door because it’s polite and you held the other door. I’m not going through it until you go, so you’re really wasting my time right now.” He actually ended up turning down the hall to take a longer route going through a different side door rather than walking through the door that I was holding open.

      Reply
      1. Teapot librarian

        Oh that’s amazing. I’ve gotten into contests of wills at doors with men who refuse to go through a door that I’m holding, but I’ve never had a man opt to go through a different door just to avoid the indignity of having a door held by a woman.

        Reply
        1. Lissa

          Yup. Never so clearly is illustrated the principle that “treating a woman politely” is not actually about the woman’s comfort at all, but about the insecurities of the guy doing it. I hate hate hate gendered manners and how the woman is always the one who is supposed to be made uncomfortable so the guy doing it can feel good about himself. Because “he was raised that way”. But it’s supposed to be “about me”, yet my preferences somehow don’t matter….>!?!?

          /feminist rage off.

          Reply
      2. nnn

        I’d be at the back of the elevator with a bunch of guys and the doors would open and they would all just stare at me instead of getting off, so that I had to squeeze past them all to get off first.

        I kept having this happen when I worked in an office building, except it kept happening at floors where I wasn’t getting off!

        I worked on the top floor, so normally I just stand in the back corner and read a book on my phone for the duration of the elevator ride (which took a while, stopping at every floor, so I could usually read a few pages in the elevator). But if there were “ladies first” men in the elevator, they’d all look at me expectantly without my realizing it, because I’m reading my book. Then the elevator doors would start closing and they’d get mad at me! So their attempt to be chivalrous was inconveniencing me, because instead of reading my book I now had to look up at each floor, see if anyone’s attempting to “ladies first” me, and tell them that I’m not getting off here.

        Reply
      3. zora

        OMG, I LOVE that you actually said something, I’ll try to remember that if it happens to me again, but I am RELISHING in the fact that he went a whole different direction!!!! How silly!!! SMH

        Reply
    6. Thlayli

      I generally let older guys do it, but I have asked guys my own age and younger not to.

      I mentioned to one of my colleagues (old enough to have white hair and adult children) once that he didn’t have to hold the door for me. He told me that his dad would have hit him if he didn’t hold the door open for a woman, so he would find it hard not to. he was deadly serious too.

      I think me trying to overcome such extreme social conditioning and making him really uncomfortable would be overkill over something that just doesn’t bother me that much.

      I’m with you, if a guy treats me in sexist ways otherwise the doorholding annoys me. But if they treat me like a respected colleague, I don’t get upset about the door holding, as they are just trying to be polite.

      Reply
      1. MCMonkeyBean

        If he is at the door first, then I actually do think he should hold it for you. But if you are at the door first, then you should hold it for him. It’s rude to let a door close on somebody regardless of gender.

        Reply
    7. SallytooShort

      I recently was escorting a court reporter to a room for a deposition and he had his hands full with his equipment so, obviously, I went ahead and held the door for him. And he was so put out by it and it was “women’s lib.” It was super weird.

      I don’t generally mind when people do this but it does lead to that second of awkwardness of standing there and then”please, you go first” or whatever. And social etiquette should be about easing any awkwardness.

      Reply
    8. MCMonkeyBean

      I hate this, especially because there is one elevator in my building that is not very patient and will start to close pretty quickly if no one is getting on!

      Reply
  32. KatieKate

    Oh god no.
    Also see: men who try and let me in/off the elevator first.
    NO DUDE. You are standing in front of me. Get on the damn elevator. It’s not a chivalrous thing, or polite because I know you don’t do this to other men.

    Reply
  33. I'm Not Phyllis

    When I was in a co-op program in high school, they actually taught us how to give a “good” handshake. I remember the teacher going around the room and shaking hands with every single person and coaching them on how to improve it. It’s a weird memory that’s always kind of stuck with me. To this day I silently judge people by their handshakes – nothing annoys me more than someone giving me a weak handshake. (38 year old woman – if that matters!)

    I agree with Alison – it’s probably because you’re a woman, and also because you’re still young. Just curious – how do you respond? “Thanks!” … “You too!” … it’s a weird thing to say to someone!

    Reply
  34. NCKat

    I still get this and I’m in my 50s. Perhaps it’s the fact I’m in a wheelchair that invites this sort of comment. I have gotten the knack of smiling broadly and cheerily saying “Thanks! I work at it!”

    Reply
  35. Bea

    No man has had the balls to ever say this to me in all my years as a professional woman. I have had them give me limp handshakes and have to shake off my firm grip. They immediately know I can and will crush them. It helps being taller than most of them. Oops.

    Reply
  36. lost academic

    I’ll add that I used to get it more when it was obvious how young I was, but not as much as others might, and it’s always weird. Now I get it less and it has I am sure a LOT to do with how tall I am – being physically more imposing seems to prepare men for a normal handshake. Anyone who comments on it loses points with me immediately though.

    Reply
  37. Daisy

    I would love to see *this* put in a self-living article and share it around the office honestly.
    It is weir and uncomfortable and, honestly, I never know how to respond, especially with senior management.

    Reply
  38. Sam

    Patronizing! It gets my hackles up too.

    It reminds me of the way people say to men with small children “Oh good for you, BABYSITTING today,” That weird congratulatory attitude on something that is baseline normal behaviour for any adult.

    Reply
    1. Busibee

      Yes, perfect example. People seeing a mother with her children in the park are most likely not going to say, “Oh, you’re babysitting today? That’s great!” But I’ve seen waaaaay too many people say that exactly thing to a father out with his children. People who say it most likely don’t mean any harm by it, but it can still make a father feel like less than a mother, just because seeing a father taking care of/playing with his children is out of the gender expectations for some people.

      Reply
  39. Kheldarson

    The only time I had a comment made about my handshake was from another woman. It was at a friend’s Eagle award celebration and we were talking life plans. This woman (adult to us older teens) started talking about handshakes in the business world. And then told me that I was trying too hard with mine while all my (male) friends were just fine.

    Kinda sucked.

    Reply
  40. Scott

    I think because they’ve never or rarely met a man with a weak handshake, it’s not worth complimenting on. Woman typically give a weaker handshake. So it’s surprising when they give a firm handshake. Is it really a compliment? I mean it’s so minor, doesn’t help you do your job, or change you in any other way?

    Reply
    1. Optimistic Prime

      Woman typically give a weaker handshake

      Do they, though? I’ve never really noticed a consistent difference in the firmness of handshake by gender. The only difference is that younger men are slightly more likely to try to crush my grip in a misguided effort to be firm – but only slightly. I’ve had a lot of young women do this as well!

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        I definitely have noticed a consistent difference but that’s merely anecdotal and I also shake hands with women much more frequently than with men, so I honestly couldn’t extrapolate one way or the other! (I’d love to see some actual data on this, though!)

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Some women do it because they want to avoid their hand being squeezed too hard, unfortunately. There are commenters above who explain it better than me. There’s also a chance this isn’t something women were taught at a certain point in history when they weren’t assumed to need it, although I certainly was when I was born in the 80’s.

          Reply
      2. Scott

        Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure if they’re trying to be more feminine, but its definitely a thing, at least in my experience. I think there’s a huge difference between a proper firm handshake and trying to crush the “opponent’s” hand. I don’t think I would comment on it, unless they were trying to crush my hand. So many the poster is actually doing that, and mis-reading the comments which could be back-handed. Either way I always try to Purel after, especially around cold and flu season.

        Reply
    2. Another Project Manager

      “Woman typically give a weaker handshake. So it’s surprising when they give a firm handshake.”

      I think that’s pretty blatantly sexist. And if we’re relying on anecdotal information, I’ve never noticed a difference in women giving “weaker” handshakes.

      I HAVE had men try to shake my hand differently than they do to the men in the same meeting (by doing a weird thing where they clasp just my fingers? And fold it into their hand?), which I presume is due to being female, which makes me FAR more uncomfortable than them commenting (which also makes me uncomfortable, but isn’t nearly as bad by comparison).

      Reply
      1. Scott

        Just to be clear, are you saying that it’s blatantly sexist to have had that experience? Or do you think I’m making it up to say sexist things?

        Of course you’re going to meet men who have no idea how to shake hands with a man or a woman.

        Reply
          1. Scott

            lol, so that’s the difference? Well it’s my personal experience, and seems to be corroborated by many in this thread.

            Reply
            1. Busibee

              Your personal experience and the personal experience of the people commenting on this message board do not equal a fact.

              Reply
            2. Busibee

              I’ve known about eight Matts throughout my life and all of them were just awful, awful people. I can now add Matt Lauer to that list. My personal opinion is that all Matts are evil. Even if I found 20 other people with the same opinion, that wouldn’t make it a fact.

              Reply
                1. Snark

                  “I’ve noticed a thing a lot and so do lots of other people!” is nothing I’d round up to fact, my dude. And it’s not actually a fact that women may generally be assumed to have weaker handshakes than men, particularly when it’s spectacularly rude to deliver a handshake firmer than most people of whatever gender could muster up. It’s a generalization, one so broad as to be meaningless and so gendered as to be pointlessly irritating.

                2. Scott

                  Dude, I’m not sure what your deal is. I never amounted it to fact. I admit that it’s only my experience, and the experience of other people, and therefore only my opinion. I simply stated that I experienced many limp handshakes from woman, and rarely from men. I wouldn’t compliment anyone on their handshake, because that’s weird, but I’m also an introvert.

                  I’ll say it again: Stop confusing fact with opinion.

                3. Busibee

                  You would have done better to state that it was your experience in your first post, because what you wrote comes off as you stating it as fact:

                  “I think because they’ve never or rarely met a man with a weak handshake, it’s not worth complimenting on. Woman typically give a weaker handshake. So it’s surprising when they give a firm handshake.”

                  Nowhere in there did you say, “In my experience, women typically give a weaker handshake.” That may have been your intention, but it did not come through.

                4. Scott

                  Nothing in that post is wrong. It’s just been nitpicked to hell. I admit the first post was more open to interpretation, but I’ve clarified it multiple times.

      2. Iron Thunder

        Of the people who give me bad handshakes, women make up the majority of the people who do it. It’s absolutely observational and not sexist to say so.

        Reply
    3. Snark

      If you’re giving a handshake firmer than a typical female hand is capable of delivering, you’re overdoing it and you need to ramp it back.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Yeah I’d say the average hand grip strength of a woman ought to be plenty. I’m not sure why someone of either gender would require any more than that.

        Reply
      2. Scott

        You should never give a handshake much firmer than the person you’re shaking hands with. If you do, from a mechanical point of view you will crush their hand.

        Reply
    4. LBK

      I mean it’s so minor, doesn’t help you do your job, or change you in any other way?

      If it’s that minor, why is it worth commenting on?

      Reply
  41. mia

    The only handshakes I can really remember are bone crushing ones, and both were from women. Looking back, kind of makes me wonder if they were trying too hard to have a firm one. Too bad all this time later, the only thing I can remember is OWWW

    Reply
  42. Optimistic Prime

    Aside from thinking handshakes is such a weird social practice of ours in the first place, what I don’t understand is the business (and mostly masculine) obsession with a “firm” handshake like it’s some sort of signifier of the kind of person you are. I’ve had people feel like they’re trying to break my fingers with the handshake they give.

    Basically I agree with the whole last paragraph of Alison’s previous post on this:

    Frankly, if you think about it, the whole mythology around handshakes is kind of odd. Plenty of people with firm handshakes aren’t confident and trustworthy or whatever else it’s supposed to indicate, and plenty of people with more delicate handshakes are. It’s pretty strange that we’ve collectively decided to read so much into a ritualized physical gesture.

    Reply
    1. nnn

      Especially since (barring medical issues) a firm handshake is something that’s very easy to perform without “meaning it”. (As opposed to faking, like, kindness or interest or enthusiasm.) It takes a second or two, there’s a limited number of variables to keep in mind, there’s no emotional involvement…

      Reading meaning into a handshake is like deciding someone is a good person because they utter the words “please” and “thank you”.

      Reply
    2. Snark

      It doesn’t get any less weird when you realize that the handshake arose to show that your dominant weapon-wielding hand was empty and that you trust the other person enough to get within dagger-shanking range to greet them.

      Reply
  43. Katelyn

    I was an American student ambassador meeting a politician in England. He was going down the line shaking our hands. I actively have more of a grip to my handshakes because I was a contrary person to “female expectations.” The politician shook my hand, and his grip was such that he was expecting a more gentle grip from me, and went to go shake the next person’s hand. But then he stopped, turned back to me and said, “A proper handshake then!” And shook my hand again, this time with the same grip and vigor I did.

    Reply
  44. Another Project Manager

    I have a very similar position/title (project manager/implementer), and I get this all the time too (29, female). It’s annoying, but since it’s usually at the beginning of a project (when relationship building is most important), I usually don’t say anything, and instead turn the topic to whatever we’re there to discuss. I like a lot of these suggestions, I’m just not sure how practical it would be to be snarky (or otherwise call attention to their weird compliment in a way that makes them uncomfortable) when I have to continue to work with them over the next 18 months.

    It is, in my experience, always middle-age (or older) men who comment (40s-ish+).

    Reply
  45. anon for this one

    This is a fascinating discussion to me and I am happy to have learned something. I’m a Jewish woman and we don’t touch members of the opposite sex at all except for our husband/wife or close relatives (YMMV as not all Jews follow this, it’s different for everyone). So I have never had this come up before but I do really appreciate hearing the perspectives and experiences of others.

    Reply
    1. nanabucaros

      I’m sorry if my question is out of line, but how do you handle when you go to an interview and someone want to give you a handshake? what do you say or how do you avoid doing it?

      Reply
      1. anon for this one

        No worries. Honestly it doesn’t really come up. I live in a Jewish majority place and since a good portion (but not all of us) follow this custom I’ve never had to navigate this before. It’s been an interesting discussion for me to learn something.

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        Check out the letter linked above relating to the job candidate who wouldn’t shake hands with women. It was a rousing debate and interesting to see all of the perspectives. It’s the last related article linked under the letter.

        Reply
      3. Close Bracket

        I worked with a male orthodox Jew. He just flat out would say he doesn’t touch members of the opposite sex bc he is Jewish. A male VPs wife got reeeeeally offended once.

        Reply
  46. Lumen

    Yup. No one has ever commented on my handshake but men, and it’s usually in the patronizing “impressive… for a woman” sort of way. Especially annoying when men younger than me do it in this head-patting, paternal tone.

    Not only is it sexist (normal caveat that is for some reason necessary: unconscious sexist bias is still sexist bias), but it irritates me even more because I don’t like shaking hands with anyone. So if I do it to be polite and then I get some backhanded ‘compliment’, it really makes me want to slap a dude.

    Reply
    1. Bostonian

      Yes. The “…for a woman” part is implied. I’d be tempted to say that to anyone who complimented me on doing any “X Manly Thing” well.

      Reply
  47. caryatis

    I’m a woman and I compliment others on their handshakes (men or women). It’s no different in my mind than “nice tie.” I understand how it can be annoying if you get it all the time, but you can’t really stop it, so best to try to accept it as well-intentioned.

    Reply
  48. Noah

    I’d say only partly sexism. When I was a young (younger? no, young) man, I got this “compliment” from, let’s say, post-middle-aged men fairly commonly. I have no doubt that there is an element of sexism here, though.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Yes, but I think it’s still a paternalistic thing that can also come across as a power play. People do it to people of lower status – very young men, children, and … women at all levels, even women at fairly high levels. So it’s infantalizing. A midcareer woman is likely to pick up that this is a comment based aimed at a tween nephew. I’m not saying it’s the problem of our times by any means, but for OP it’s still a subtle sign of the sexism we live in.

      Reply
  49. Brett

    I get that compliment a lot as a man. I think I particularly get it a lot because I am a _much_ shorter than average male with hands that appear proportionate to my size (they are actually huge for my height, but it is not easy to tell). I do have a dwarfing condition, but I am taller than what the LPA technically considers dwarfing and appear proportionate.
    So, I think short height and small hands = routine compliments on my hand shake even though I am male.

    Reply
    1. Brett

      In a quick informal survey of other short men I know (aka my relatives), the handshake thing definitely happens to us. Even more common, though, is “you have an honest face” are related compliments.

      Turns out one of my relatives had a talk with a psychologist about this, and the psychologist said that these things were extremely common for short men because they are seeing as non-threatening (which people immediately associate with honesty and physical weakness).

      Reply
    2. Busibee

      Yeah, I would still say that’s sexist because those men probably think you don’t present as a “typical” man, so for you to have a “typical man” handshake is out of their gender expectations, so they comment on it.

      Reply
  50. Al

    This happened to me a few times. I started saying “You too. Been practicing?” And that seems to shut it down pretty fast. They don’t love the implication that their natural manliness is in question, and you come out with the upper hand (hah).

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doll

      That is *perfect*. I don’t get comments on my handshake, but if I do get comments about something else man-leh, I’m absolutely going to adopt this.

      Reply
      1. Al

        Def try it, if for no other reason than the looks on their faces are *Italian chef kiss* perfect.

        The key is saying it in a friendly and jokey manner while smiling, so they aren’t further threatened by the ~~aggressive~~ lady questioning their masculinity.

        Reply
  51. Elizabeth H.

    I used to get this all the time when I was younger! I don’t remember when it stopped – maybe around age 25 or so (I’m 30 now). It never occurred to me that it was patronizing although I definitely can see the vibe where it’s complimenting a woman for her “masculine” skills like whiskey drinking or whatever.

    I also used to compliment people on their handshakes, mostly men – I don’t think I’ve EVER complimented a woman on her handshakes. I mostly did this when I was younger too, I think because it’s less “something that fades into background noise of existing in the world” and more “ooh, performance of adulthood” when you’re younger.

    I realize that not everybody likes to shake hands or does shake hands which is OK, but I do and I can appreciate a nice handshake. I’ve also definitely complimented a guy on his handshake at a party or something when it was intended as part of mild flirtation.

    Reply
    1. Accountress

      Ohhh, the whiskey thing! When I was 22, I was late for a big department bonding thing, so the last seat was by my 10+ years older supervisors and managers. I ordered a Drambuie as soon as I sat down, because that’s my “wash that man/day right out of my hair” drink. The server brought it out and I downed it in one go.

      I worked with that group for another 2 years, and I never saw them look as astonished as they did then. I was (am) a happy perky girly-girl, and previously had only been seen drinking Smirnoff Ice or sodas at happy hours, so this was a surprise to everyone.

      Reply
  52. Todd

    My handshake gets “complimented” all the time. I’m not a big guy (and well over 50) and the comment comes from men and women, old and young.

    Reply
  53. Nita

    I’ve never gotten this comment, thank goodness – it seems so annoying! Lots of other pesky comments that come with being a woman in the construction industry, but not this one specifically. I love all the suggestions for a response though.

    Reply
  54. Former Retail Manager

    I’m female and I’ve gotten this comment quite a bit over the years. I don’t take it as being patronizing. I took it more as the fact that the men I was shaking hands with were relieved that I didn’t have the dreaded dead fish handshake. I don’t routinely shake hands with other women when meeting them, versus men, but the few that I have all had either weak or total dead fish handshakes, which I hate. For what it’s worth, younger males (like under 30) have their fair share of dead fish too. I’d love it if we could put this antiquated business ritual to bed. I’m by no means a germaphobe, but I don’t love touching other people and I avoid it whenever possible. **Sorry….I have my hands full…..so nice to meet you….sits down quickly or makes distracting small talk**

    Reply
    1. Pollygrammer

      I don’t really understand why less than a second of somebody’s non-firm grip (the dreaded “dead fish”) has so many people recoiling so strongly. Can somebody explain?

      Reply
      1. Trout 'Waver

        MassMatt put it really well further upthread. Obviously it’s a matter of opinion.

        This strikes me as contrary to what a handshake is supposed to be, a greeting and show of sincerity and openness. IMO this is equivalent to deliberately mumbling a “hello I’m MassMatt” so no one can understand you

        Reply
        1. Pollygrammer

          Part of my distaste for the really strong opinions about subpar handshakes is the fact that I’m perfectly well aware that shaking my hand isn’t very pleasant. As I mentioned above, my hands are always like ice. I can’t help it. The intensity about which people seem to judge handshakes is kind of disheartening.

          Reply
  55. FLS86

    This is funny because I am a woman and I compliment men on their handshakes all the time! I find that men tend to tread lightly with handshakes because I guess my lady bones are frail and prone to breakage, so if a guy gives me a handshake that I think they’d give to another man, I compliment them, i.e. “good handshake!”

    I guess they think it’s weird. I ain’t mad.

    Reply
  56. FD

    I think it’s one of those ‘Is this the battle you want to fight?’ things, honestly. I don’t mean that rhetorically, I mean, for you personally, does it rise to the level of wanting to put the level of energy into it needed to change it in your immediate surroundings.

    If you decide the answer is no, one thing that helps for me personally is to reframe it as a “Good, that means I’ll have to do less work to establish my assertiveness later on.” I actually have found that being willing to play Handshake Death Grip with certain people (I have personally only ever had this happen with men, though I’m sure some women do it to each other too) sets the expectation that I’m not going to be pushed around.

    Mind you, that shouldn’t be the case, but for me, I find re-framing it that way makes it less bothersome.

    Reply
  57. Bostonian

    Ew. What a weird “compliment.”

    I have never had someone say that to me, nor have I heard it said to anyone else. I didn’t know this was a thing.

    Reply
  58. CM

    My normal reaction is an expressionless, “Thanks?” and then immediately moving on with the conversation. But once in a while I’ll say something snarky like an enthusiastic, “Thank you, I’ve been practicing all day!”

    I agree with those above who said this can be a little tricky because normally, it happens to me in a business context (with the same suited men who assume I’m a secretary rather than an attorney) and I’m there to cultivate a business relationship with them. But honestly, if they can’t handle that level of reaction, they’re probably going to be jerks anyway. Also, 100% of the time I have gotten this comment, it’s been followed up with other sexist comments and behavior.

    Reply
  59. Cucumberzucchini

    I can’t stand it when men give me a different handshake opening, where they try to just take my forefingers in there’s. It’s weird and uncomfortable. I don’t find it polite in a business or social setting. Just shake my hand normally thank you very much.

    Reply
  60. Undine

    I wonder if I’m guilty of the limp handshake thing. My family of origin was consistently bad at or disinterested in the performance of social norms. So mostly handshakes come out of the blue, I probably am feeling half-grabbed and half-braced.

    On the other hand, I bet Don Draper gives really good handshake.

    Reply
  61. ClownBaby

    Now I am remembering all the times I commented on someone’s handshake….I have to learn how to keep my mouth shut.

    Granted, I am a woman. Whenever I conduct interviews, especially with younger people new to the work force, I find myself making some stupid comment like “That’s a firm grip you have!” (when they give my hand a death-squeeze) equally to men and women…but still, no need for it, especially because I do realize I probably only say it to the 18-24 year olds.

    Reply
  62. Triple Anon

    Related comment. So I guess it’s well established that men are often condescending to women and that most women don’t like it? So why does this continue?

    It seems to be a generational / habit thing to some extent. I think sometimes older men do it because they were taught to. But younger, even very socially aware, men do it too. I’ve seen very progressive people engage in this behavior. I don’t understand it. It seems like it would be such an easy thing to change.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      In my experience, the man in question doesn’t think about it – I just remind him of his daughter, and he finds himself giving me little ‘helpful’ hints and praise like he would to daughter without seeing the big picture or recognizing why it’s a problem. Whereas I’m cringing because I want him to think of me (and treat me) on par with other mid-level manager of my experience level, not his little girl.

      In the case of the handshake specifically, I’m sure it’s similar to what the commenter Scott expressed – that he feels that most of the women of his acquaintance give a weaker handshake than the men, so when he meets one that seems to be an exception, he’s pleasantly surprised and might mention it. The problem is the hidden confirmation bias that probably underlies his thinking (he doesn’t count all the men who give bad handshakes in the same way) and the fact that calling it out this way probably makes the woman feel gross.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      I think this whole comment section is thoughts on that :-). Basically, “Why does this continue?” is because men are in charge of a lot of things and this behavior doesn’t result in negative consequences.

      There is, I think, a parallel between this and the “mulatto” question in that there’s an issue of normative maleness/normative whiteness. It is a pretty recent notion that you can like a kind of person just fine and still engage in some microaggressive behaviors when dealing with them; I think we humans more complicated than such actions serving as thermometers that reveal our systemic temperature on racism or sexism, but they do tend to come from people who have not realized the way they act suggests their kind is the center of the world. That’s not a message that’s being evenly conveyed to everybody.

      Reply
    3. FD

      I think for the same reason lots of institutional biases continue, really.

      If you’re in a group that has historically had privilege, it’s genuinely tough to see that from inside, and it’s often hard to see the things that have been natural all your life but may actually be hurtful to others.

      For instance, let’s say you’re a man and therefore have generally been a high performer. You’ve been rewarded with raises for your performance. From your point of view, you mostly see the work you (genuinely did!) put in, and the reward you gained. In comparison, if you have a woman coworker who is as good a performer as you are but gets a lower raise, you don’t really see that. In fact, since you feel your boss has been fair to you, you’ll likely assume that if she isn’t being paid as much, your boss feels she isn’t as strong of a performer. And if someone points this out, it can often feel like they’re really attacking your work ethic, rather than the systematic inequality of the system as a whole.

      In the case of specific behaviors, therefore, they don’t stop for two reasons. First of all, because it often frankly prudent for the people who experience them to let them go. Why? Because if you’re a woman and you let it pass, the moment goes by and you can move on to whatever the meeting is about. If you return the awkwardness to sender, it often puts the meeting on a bad footing, and may make it harder to achieve whatever goal you had in the first place. I’m not saying this is good exactly, just that from the point of view of the person dealing with it, the cost of changing it often isn’t worth the result you may get.

      So, what’s the solution?

      I think there are two things.

      First of all, people who are in a group that has some advantage (and most people have at least some privilege) can remind their peers not to do certain things. Men can remind other men that this kind of behavior is weird and they wouldn’t do it to a male peer. Cis-gendered folks can remind each other to gender their trans colleagues right. White folks can remind each other not to be weird about touching black coworker’s hair.

      For example, if the LW pushes back on the weird handshake comments, some number of people will think of her as ‘too sensitive’. But if a male coworker said to another who he’d heard say the same thing, “So do I have a good handshake?” or something like that, it’s much less likely to have the same fallout for the male coworker.

      Second, and this is not fair but I do think it’s true. As more people in groups that have been disadvantaged in the past work their way into positions of power despite all the BS, they can often start creating cultures on their teams and in their businesses that says “We treat people like XYZ.”

      Reply
  63. Tuesday Next

    I’ve never heard anyone comment on someone’s handshake, in 25+ years in the working world. Could this be a cultural (US) thing?

    Reply
  64. First time commenting!

    Someone may have mentioned this already and maybe I missed it. I think it’s because you’re a woman who doesn’t shake hands with a weak grip. One where the person just grips your fingers lightly. Men do this too but it seems to be the stereotype that this is how women shake hands.

    Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Heheh I love the seven comments below all making this point: “the problem is that women shake hands badly!” If you think this, you are probably sexist. You are not noticing when men shake hands badly – and many, many men do, but they’re not being lumped in together in the same way women are.

        Reply
  65. bopper

    I do college fairs and college recruiting…if a student gives me a good handshake (as opposed to the “limp fish”) I will compliment them on it…”Good handshake!” but I do it to males and females and feel I am in a mentoring mode.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      That is exactly the crux of the issue. It’s something one would do in a mentoring mode. That’s why it’s odd that men do it to equal or even higher-up women without a second thought, and why so many women in the comments are saying they don’t love it.

      Reply
  66. Mike

    I really, really hate the “handshake culture” thing. I think it’s a leftover from the Powerful Businessman mindset of the 80s where the thinking was all about how to overpower the other person in every single social situation. I used to work in an industry with a high amount of salespeople who tended to be older men, and like half of them had an uncomfortably firm “power handshake” – some actually squeezed my hand so hard it left me in pain. Like, literally doing that thing where they shift the bones in your hand around. I have rather small hands for a guy, and I already have issues with joint pain, so it was always REALLY aggravating when one of them did that to me. But my boss would just get annoyed if I complained, because he was one of them too!

    Reply
    1. Mike

      Oh, and to expand on that, it also annoys me when people try to give me advise on having a firm handshake. 1) I CAN’T. Because of the aforementioned small hands and joint pain, I’ve never had a lot of hand strength. 2) It really, really doesn’t matter and it’s an asinine thing to force me to do.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      I’ve heard it’s big in the military, too, and I agree with you that it’s strange and dated. I’m usually a defender of dated subjective customs, but this one I just can’t get behind.

      Reply
  67. 2horseygirls

    I admit to not reading all the comments.

    I imagine it is because your handshake does not remind them of a cold, limp dishrag.

    Maybe it is a case of more of us should take the time to mention to the dishrag-handshakers that their handshake is lacking in order to make up the difference?

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Why, though? We wouldn’t tell people we meet that we think they dress badly or that they’re saying “Actually” too much. Why should tastes on this be an exception?

      Reply
  68. Iron Thunder

    To the original poster / OP , It’s because *of the people who give me bad handshakes* 9 out of 10 are women. It’s obvious to me that many women:

    1. Never got taught how to give a handshake
    2. Don’t like shaking hands
    3. Don’t understand the purpose of shaking hands

    They give terrible, awful handshakes. So a firm and expressive handshake from a woman is memorable in a positive way, which is why men compliment you. It can be patronizing, but I doubt it’s meant that way. You’re actually showing that you can handle a male ritual and operate comfortably in a male space. That part is absolutely a compliment!!

    Assuming ill intent here is not a good course of action. Give a bright smile and say “Thank you” and then move on.

    Reply
    1. senatormeathooks

      I don’t think it’s necessary to mention the awfulness/awesomeness of anyone’s handshake. Who cares? What value does a ‘good’ handshake bring to the table vs a ‘awful’ one? What IS an ‘awful’ handshake anyway?

      Handshakes are a common greeting not restricted to a gender. Greeting people with a handshake has nothing to do with a ‘male space’, whatever that means.

      Reply
    2. senatormeathooks

      And it might be a compliment, but if it’s ultimately patronizing to the recieving party, it’s not, by definition, complementary, and you should probably stop doing it. If you insist on making the comment, please at least evaluate when the handshakes are both good AND bad, so that we women might improve in this important category.

      Reply
    3. Murphy

      You’re actually showing that you can handle a male ritual and operate comfortably in a male space.

      You don’t think maybe the fact that you’re thinking of business as a “male space” might be part of the problem?

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Hahaha I laughed at that. “Assuming ill intent here is not a good course of action” was a nice topper for someone who calls the office a “a male space.” Just because I’m sexist doesn’t mean you should think I’m sexist!

        Reply
    4. all aboard the anon train

      Since when have handshakes been something only men do? Handshakes and greetings are not explicitly a male only ritual.

      Additionally, a workplace should not have male rituals and male spaces, and patting women on the heads for conforming to male dominated workplace culture is most definitely meant to be patronizing and sexist.

      Reply
      1. doctor schmoctor

        I’m a dude and I don’t understand the purpose of shaking hands. I am now going to take your hand in mine and shake it. Then we’ll be… bros, or something?

        It’s actually really bizarre

        Reply
  69. senatormeathooks

    I am dumbfounded to learn that women get complimented on handshakes. I believe it, of course, but I feel like I’ve dodged some kind of weird bullet.

    Reply
  70. Candy Clouston

    I often find shaking other women’s hands creepy. They feel like little birds dropped into my palm. I think it’s code for “Thanks for not having a frail handshake and creeping me out.” I haven’t been in a lot of hand shaking situations, and the few I remember (other than job interviews) were cases where that contact served a reasonable purpose to establish a bond (e.g., doctor of some sort). I don’t recall hearing that often, but it has happened because I have an assertive grip and fairly large hands. I’m much more put off by being called “young lady.”

    Reply
  71. Melanie

    OP here is my take on the complements..you actually know how to shake hands. Most women have what I call the “Dead fish” handshake, they have a limp soft handshake and have no idea how to apply pressure. It is unpleasant. It sounds like you were taught how to correctly shake a person’s hand. Nothing sexist in that. Take it as a compliment and keep going. Stop making a problem where there isn’t one.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      But I think it’s worth asking, if one way is common to women and another way is common to men, why the male practice is automatically the goal here.

      Reply
  72. Laura

    Having grown up in an environment where everyone shakes hands every Sunday (Mormon church) and having shaken hands with hundreds women with loose, dead hands (and being grossed out by it), I’d have to say that that is what these men are responding to. Yes, it’s sexist and condescending, but women need to shake hands like they mean it. OTOH, men often shake hands like Trump does, and get into a contest of squeezing hands until the other person’s bones break, so you could return the compliment: “And thank you for not breaking any bones.”

    Reply
  73. Indie

    So I do compliment both men and other women on *particularly* good handshakes. I’m rethinking that now with so many of you saying it’s patronising . I’m also wondering; a) did I pick up this habit from men’s compliments to me? (I don’t remember), and b) since jerk men use handshakes sometimes as a power , play within male company, does that make men less likely to issue a compliment to males in case it sounds snide? I.e. the disparity is not because of opposite gender patronage but in-gender landmines re power plays?

    Reply
  74. Diamond

    I’m also a female 26 year old but no one has ever commented on my handshake! I can’t believe how often it happens to you. That is really weird and I would also find it patronizing. I mean even if you have a particularly pleasant handshake is that really something comment-worthy?

    Reply
  75. Libor

    I work at a large financial institution (you’ve heard of it) in quant/trading and we absolutely have rejected qualified candidates on the basis of their handshakes.
    Both men and women.

    Reply
  76. TootsNYC

    The “good handshake” *also* sends the message that they are the ones who get to evaluate you, not the other way around.

    Reply
  77. Wintermute

    The ONLY appropriate complement to a handshake is a slightly raised eyebrow if it’s a secret handshake, other than that… just, no.

    and yes, I have noticed people giving me various secret handshakes in a business context. You’d be amazed the number of Masons out there.

    Reply
  78. Safetykats

    It’s striking that on the one hand today we are all kinds of offended that men are clueless enough to not only be surprised that we can shake hands properly but to compliment us on it, and on the other hand we want to do home spa skin treatments at our work stations. I don’t really know what to think about that.

    Reply
  79. Lasslisa

    I don’t get this particular reaction (though I don’t have occasion for a lot of hand shakes and I do get told, “I’ve never met a female engineer before!” sometimes when I’m traveling). I feel like my response would probably be a faintly confused look and “uh, thanks, uh, you too”. Which might be exactly on the target, really.

    Reply
  80. John Rohan

    Wow so much debate over sexism here.

    The cold reality is, a lot of women have such weak handshakes that I worry I’m going to crush the bones in their hand. So I shake their hands very gently like I would my elderly grandmother.

    Sometimes reality is sexist, I suppose.

    Reply
    1. Natalie

      Yes, there is lots of sexism that women have to put up with in reality, including yours! It’s a good thing that you at least recognize it.

      Reply
      1. John Rohan

        If the hand strength difference between men and women is “sexist”, then the definition of sexism goes out the window.

        Reply
        1. Hey Nonnie

          You’re presuming that hand strength is caused by gender rather than health, physical strength, and athletic ability. Google “Jessie Graff American Ninja Warrior” and tell me you still think her hand strength is less than your average middle-aged-male desk jockey.

          Reply
  81. rolling

    I don’t consider it “sexist” but yes, gender related. women too often give this nasty flaccid limp laying of the hand in the other persons. Men do it too but less often. So when they say you have a nice handshake they are probably expressing their appreciation to you that they didnt have to go through that. Firm up, people! You’re supposed to actually grip!

    Reply
  82. Lisa

    The hand-shaker is kinda nagging at me… is it possible you have an unusual handshake (either really sold – firmer than most – or involves multiple shakes or something)? I have what I’d consider a really solid handshake… firm but not too firm, I would consider equal to any person with a solid handshake. I have never, ever had someone comment on my handshake. But I could totally see a man calling out another man with a really strong handshake (“hey buddy, that’s quite the handshake you’ve got there!”) – as in “a little strong, no?” or, “compensating for something?”

    I can’t picture women doing it but I’m thinking that’s just because (I’m generalizing), women tend to be a bit politer (at first) about annoying/boorish behaviour that isn’t overtly offensive (I can think of examples where I’ve shaken hands with people and they were super weird/weak handed/etc. and I didn’t say anything).
    Does that make sense? I’m totally not disputing the fact that there are men out there that are like “good for you, shaking your hand like a man and everything!” to women (I’ve met them) but the frequency by which this is happening makes me think either (1) you are in an industry/culture which is particularly not welcoming to women or (2) something’s going on with your handshake.

    FWIW, the first 10 years of my career were as a go-getter in an old boy’s club, so I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this type of behaviour.

    Although it would be golden if you could deadpan, “thanks, I’d be happy to give you some pointers if you’re interested!” every time someone says it.

    Reply
  83. Annoyed

    “It’s not a big deal at all, and it’s something I’d never bring up at work because it’s entirely a non-issue.“

    The thing is, it *is* a big deal. It is sexist, ageist, and misogynistic.

    I get not bringing it up because…work, but dont allow yourself to believe it’s not a thing.

    It is a very big thing masquerading as a no big deal issue. It’s just one of millions if microaggressions women are subjected to on the regular.

    Reply
  84. Lisa L

    FWIW, I get this a lot and I take it as a compliment. I’m a young woman and my dear grandfather taught me at a young age that a good handshake is important for a lasting first impression. He would practice it with me until I got it right. I get a lot of surprise reactions, always from men. I think it’s definitely sexist, but I don’t always think that’s the intention. I think men are impressed that a young woman has a firm handshake because society as a whole doesn’t reinforce that we (females) need to have this “skill”. It’s one of those things you learn out in the work world, not in school. I usually just say “thank you” or make a joke like “oh, it’s not as impressive as yours” and move on. It’s definitely weird, but usually handshakes are done during introductions, so I don’t think it’s worth pointing out ignorant behavior when I’m first meeting someone. I would wait to address it until I’ve gotten to know the other person better.

    Reply

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