Have you every looked in the sink after a tornado of lunch hour and seen soggy, spongey bread left in the sink?
Of all things in this world, wet bread makes me gag. I can pull poop-rope (not sure who’d want to link to that but there it is) out of my dog’s anus, clean rainbow vomit, and brave the notorious shower drain without hesitation. Put a piece of wet bread in my hand—I cannot guarantee the following moments will be vomit-free.
Why is this? What makes a wet sandwich so disgusting?
The world may never know.
On that note, having a “wet-sandwich” handshake is one of the worst things you can do professionally.
Growing up, I was always told, “Manners, manners professionalism.” I even recall practicing handshakes with my father, receiving seemingly pointless lectures on “the importance of portrayal and blah blah blah” when all I could think was, “When can I go outside an play?” Naturally, after rebelling for the first sixteen years of my life, the importance sunk in (thanks, dad).
I experienced my first “wet-sandwich.”
A young manager of a sandwich-art establishment offered me my first summer job. We’ll call him Mick. Knowing the job offer to be a professional encounter, I reached out my hand to shake his…
Sweaty, soft and sticky all at once, he neither attempted to properly grip my hand nor make eye contact. It felt like his hands were dipped in—nay, made of warm, spoiled milk.
Through reflexive judgement, I immediately lost a chunk of respect for him. Here’s why:
When people do not shake your hand firmly, it indicates a weakness either in their own demeanor or in their interpretation of yours. Because he shook my hand so weakly, I assumed (correctly) two things:
He did not respect me.
He did not respect himself.
As I worked through the days, attempting to keep my sixteen-year-old self as professional as possible, I learned the true meaning of “wet-sandwich” handshakes and the characteristics of the people, like Mick, who give them.
During a busy lunch shift, the store owner—Jeff—came in to help and observe. Extremely crude, lacking honor, respect and etiquette, he had the same “wet-sandwich” handshake as Mick. As the shift progressed, I went into a cabinet by Jeff’s knees. As I rose from the depths, his elbow planted right into my eye socket, which immediately began swelling. Customers watched awkwardly as I gripped my eye, tears streaming down my face and biting my lip. A proper store owner and manager would have told me to go in the back with some ice—and, before you pull the “lazy millennial” card, my thinking was primarily based on the fact customers do not like feeling awkward while their sandwich is being made—but no, Mick and Jeff persisted, looking into my swollen, rheumy eyes, commanded I continue to work the line and to not “be such a female.”
I did as I was told because I was 1) sixteen and 2) not in charge. The day passed. The swelling began to dwindle towards the end of my shift.
I put in my notice the next day. Thus, my journey in recognizing the artful professionalism and importance of handshakes began.
“How can your judgement be accurate just from a handshake?”
Easily. It’s physical touch, for god’s sake.
Handshakes are historically meant for judgement. Historical evidence suggests handshakes were primarily used to check for weapons, for checking intentions of the other party—that has not changed.
A firm handshake indicates intentions of seriousness, confidence, and respect for both parties whereas a “wet-sandwich” indicates weakness, self-consciousness, and disrespect. Obviously, if you are shaking the hand of an elderly or sick person, let them set the firmness and then match it.
Pontificate and use big, intelligent words all you want—your handshake is often the most memorable part of any professional encounter. Through it, you show respect for everyone and yourself.