What’s in a Handshake?

What’s in a handshake? More than you may realize!

The handshake is said to have started as a sign of peace, as in “no weapon in this hand.”

What it is today is non-verbal communication that tells a LOT about the person you’re meeting, and thus can tell a lot about you, too (in my opinion as an avid networker and student of communication between humans).

A Good Basic Handshake is one where the webbing between the thumb and first finger meets the same area on the other person’s hand. The hands stay side-by-side (no top or bottom). The pressure is firm- not hard or soft, it’s there for 2-3 pumps, and not too long or short. With a good basic handshake comes good eye contact.

The Soft Handshake or as Barbara and Alan Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language put it, the “dead fish” handshake: I have heard people criticize this as a “wussy” handshake and I disagree. To me, if someone gives me a soft handshake or perhaps just their fingers, It tells me they may be sensitive about their hands. They may be in pain. They may be a surgeon. I am conscious of this, and stay gentle with them.

The “Let Me Show You How Strong I Am” Handshake is the basic handshake while squeezing your hand like a stress ball (while jumping out of a plane with a questionable parachute). They may not realize they are taking the adage, “give a good firm handshake” a little too far. If someone gives me one of these, I’ll keep eye contact while my left hand gives them a firm tap on the back of their hand, which gets them to let go faster.

The “I Get to Be On Top!” Handshake is the dominating or aggressive handshake. It makes me think they are full of insecurity or competition, or they are possibly aggressive or predatory, looking for a reaction (I like to answer assertively, but some people will go passive or aggressive in the face of this forceful move).

Let the crushing or dominating handshakes inform you on the attitude of the person who does them. Returning their technique could result in a ridiculous power struggle. You can put your left hand on top of theirs, or touch/grab their forearm if you want to answer with a more subtle power struggle. A better response might be to call them out for it and name the behavior. “Wow that is a bit over-firm, buddy!” What ever you do, recognize the technique, and be on guard with anyone who tries to control or dominate the handshake. It takes all friendliness out of this friendly gesture.

Be aware of what you do- what kind of message are you sending? The handshake is often done when we first meet someone. It tends to be a large part of our first impression on the people we meet.

Look them in the eye and go for the basic handshake: meet the webbing between thumb and forefinger, have a compassionately firm, side-by-side grip. Squeeze less for softer handshakes, and be a little more firm for firmer handshakes. Keep it friendly, and you’ll find that it becomes a lovely tool to gain rapport and a great start to building your connections with people.

Be safe. Be Strong. Be EMPOWERED!Handshakes