The Ultimate Body Language Guide

Greeting Body Language Guide

Greeting is a tradition that helps break the ice and leads to appropriate interaction.

The formality is often an important factor. Moving to an informal greeting is an important factor in developing a friendship. Too early and it is an insult. Too late and it will be considered arrogant and distant.



Handshake variables include:

  • Strength (weak – strong)
  • Temperature (cold – hot)
  • Moisture (damp – dry)
  • Fullness of grip (full – partial)
  • Duration (brief – long)
  • Speed (slow – fast)
  • Complexity (shake – dance)
  • Texture (rough – smooth)
  • Eye contact (prolonged – intermittent – none)


A firm grip shows confidence, while a gentle grip may indicate timidity, particularly in men. Woman are expected ro be more gentle.

Palm down indicates dominance and a feeling of superiority (metaphor for “I’m on top”). Palm sideways indicates equality. Palm up indicates inferiority.

A long handshake also signals dominance, particularly if one person tries to pull away and the dominant person does’nt let them.

Dominance may also be shown by using the other hand to touch the person, such as at the wrist, elbow, arm or shoulder. This may also be done by gripping the shaken hand with both of your hands. This can also indicate affection or pleasure.

Responses to the dominant handshake can include counter-touching (use your other hand to hold their hand, wrist, elbow, arm or shoulder), hugging, push them away by pushing your hand towards them and stepping aside.



Salute variables include:

  • Shape of hand (straight – curved)
  • Speed (fast – slower)
  • Head-touch (forehead – none)
  • Shape (up-down – curved)


The salute is a formal greeting where the open hand is brought up to the forehead. It is often used in the military in a strictly prescribed manner and situation.

The salute is a salvation of the open hand, which is on the front. It is often used in the army in strict compliance with provisions and conditions.

There are several possible origins of this, including:

  • Shading the eyes from the brilliance of a superior person.
  • An abbreviation of raising one’s hat or tugging the forelock (in the absence of a hat).
  • Raising helmet visor to show the face (to allow recognition and dispel fears of enmity).
  • Raising the hand to show it does not contain a weapon.



Bowing variables include:

  • Lowering (slight – very low)
  • Pivot (head – waist)
  • Duration (short – long)
  • Gender style (bow – curtsey)


Bowing amongst peers is commonly used in a severely contracted form as a slight nod of the head. Even in the shortened form, the lower and longer the bow, the greater the respect that is demonstrated.

If eye contact is maintained during a bow, it can signify either mistrust or liking. Looking down as you bow indicates submission, although this also can just be a formal action.

The female variant on the bow is the curtsey, which again can be a full sinking to the floor or a slight bob. Similarly to bowing, this puts the person lower than the other person and into a position of greater vulnerability.

Bowing is different in different cultures. In countries such as Japan it is clearly defined and an important part of greetings. In other countries it is less important or maybe seen as obsequious.



Variables for waving include:

  • Open palm (flat – curved)
  • Movement angle (big – small)
  • Raised (above head – held low)
  • Direction (sideways rotation – up-down)


Waves gain attention and a big overhead wave can attract a person from some distance. This also makes others look at you and is not likely from a timid person.

A motionless palm, held up and facing the person is less obvious and may be flashed for a short period, particularly if the other person is looking at you.



Hugging variables include:

  • Hand placement (shoulder, etc.)
  • Arms touch (none – wrap)
  • Body position (front – side – behind)
  • Pressure (light – strong)
  • Body touching (none – full)
  • Gender (man/woman – man/woman)


Hugging is a closer and more affectionate form of greeting than shaking hands and perhaps reflects a desire for bonding.

Hugging is generally more common between friends, although its usage does vary across cultures and is common in some places. Gender rules may also apply, for example hugging in America is far more common between women than between men. Harassment laws may also limit touching of the other person in what may be interpreted as an intimate way.

Full-body hugs create contact with breasts and between genitalia and hence may be sexually suggestive or stimulating. This tends to limit their use to romantic greetings, although they are still used in some cultures, including between men.

Light shoulder-only hugs are more common as social greetings, in which people lean forward in order not to break rules about touching breasts or genitalia.

Side-on, one-handed hugs are safer and can be a friendly touch. Even so, this still can be a deliberate romantic advance or act of domination (even if not, it may be perceived as such).

Longer, fuller hugs often signal greater affection and may happen between people who have not seen one another for some time.

Hugging someone from behind can be surprising and even threatening, and is usually only done by friends who trust one another implicitly.



Contact during kissing can be:

  • Lip/cheek to lip/cheek
  • Duration (peck – smooch)
  • Tongue (involved – not)
  • Gender (man/woman to man/woman)
  • Body involvement (none – full)


In some cultures, kissing is a part of social greeting. This may or may not include man to man and man to woman.

The type of kiss is stricktly controlled by the relationship. Social greetings are relatively short, and may involve double or triple kissing, alternating either side of the face.

General friendship kissing may be longer and with more body contact, though mostly using arms to include a hug.

The most intense kiss is the romantic kiss which may well include full length body touching, caressing with hands and lip to lip kisses that may even include the tongue.

Interested in learning everything there is to know about body language? Check out this complete body language guide.


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