Table of Contents, Body Language Resources Page
Previous Section Next Section

Chapter 2

THE POWER IS IN YOUR HANDS

How the Palms and Handshakes are used to control

Oprah Winfrey

In ancient times, open palms were used to show that no weapons were being concealed. Verbal weapons, now that's another story

It was Adam's first day on the job with his new Public Relations company and he wanted to make a good impression on everyone. As he was introduced to colleague after colleague, he shook their hands enthusiastically and gave everyone a broad smile. Adam stood 6 foot 3 inches (1.9m) tall and was a handsome guy, well dressed and certainly looked like a successful PR man. He always gave a firm handshake, just the way his father had taught him when he was young. So firm in fact, that it drew blood on the ring fingers of two female colleagues and left several others feeling injured. Other men competed with Adam's handshake — that's what men do. The women, however, suffered in silence and soon were whispering, 'Stay away from that guy Adam — a typical alpha male, clueless'. The men never brought it up - but the women simply avoided Adam. And half the firm's executives were women.

Here's a handy thought — whether you are heavy-handed or high-handed, engage in sleight-of-hand to avoid a hand-to-mouth existence, you might have to show your hand sometimes to gain the upper hand. Don't get caught red-handed, or try to wash your hands of a mistake, because if you bite the hand that feeds you, things could get out of hand.

The hands have been the most important tools in human evolution and there are more connections between the brain and the hands than between any other body parts. Few people ever consider how their hands behave or the way they shake hands when they meet someone. Yet those first five to seven pumps establish whether dominance, submission or power plays will take place. Throughout history, the open palm has been associated with truth, honesty, allegiance and submission. Many oaths are still taken with the palm of the hand over the heart, and the palm is held in the air when somebody is giving evidence in a court of law; the Bible is held in the left hand and the right palm held up for the members of the court to view. One of the most valuable clues to discovering whether someone is being open and honest - or not - is to watch for palm displays. Just as a dog will expose its throat to show submission or surrender to the victor, humans use their palms to display in a similar way to show that they are unarmed and therefore not a threat.

Submissive dogs reveal their throats.

Humans show their palms.

How to Detect Openness

When people want to be open or honest, they will often hold one or both palms out to the other person and say something like, 'I didn't do it!', 'I'm sorry if I upset you' or 'I'm telling you the truth'. When someone begins to open up or be truthful, they will likely expose all or part of their palms to the other person. Like most body language signals, this is a completely unconscious gesture, one that gives you an 'intuitive' feeling or hunch that the other person is telling the truth.

Trust Me
'Trust me'

Kim Jong-un Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

The palms are intentionally used everywhere to infer an open, honest approach

When children are lying or concealing something, they'll often hide their palms behind the back. Similarly, a man who wants to conceal his whereabouts after a night out with the boys might hide his palms in his pockets, or in an arms-crossed position, when he tries to explain to his partner where he was. However, the hidden palms may give her an intuitive feeling that he is not telling the truth. A woman who is trying to hide something will try to avoid the subject or talk about a range of unrelated topics while doing various other activities at the same time.

When men lie their body language can be obvious.

Women prefer to look busy as they lie.

Salespeople are taught to watch for a customer's exposed palms when he gives reasons or objections about why he can't buy a product, because when someone is giving valid reasons, they usually show their palms. When people are being open in explaining their reasons they use their hands and flash their palms whereas someone who isn't telling the truth is likely to give the same verbal responses but conceal their hands.

Keeping their hands in their pockets is a favorite ploy of men who don't want to participate in a conversation. The palms were originally like the vocal cords of body language because they did more 'talking' than any other body part and putting them away was like keeping one's mouth shut.

Kourtney Kardashian, Scott Disick
Palms-in-Pockets: From the body posturing, she is forcefully making her point, he is in the doghouse ... and doesn't feel like communicating

Intentional Use of the Palms to Deceive

Some people ask, 'If I tell a lie and keep my palms visible, will people be more likely to believe me?' The answer is yes - and no. If you tell an outright lie with your palms exposed, you might still appear insincere to your listeners because many of the other gestures that should also be visible when displaying honesty are absent and the negative gestures used during lying will appear and will be incongruent with the open palms. Con artists and professional liars are people who have developed the special art of making their non-verbal signals complement their verbal lies. The more effectively the professional con artist can use the body language of honesty when telling a lie, the better he is at his job.

Will you still love me when I'm old and gray?' she asked, palms visible. 'Not only will I love you,' he replied, i'll write to you.'

The Law of Cause and Effect

It's possible, however, to appear more open and credible by practicing open palm gestures when communicating with others. Interestingly, as the open palm gestures become habitual, the tendency to tell untruths diminishes. Most people find it difficult to lie with their palms exposed because of the law of cause and effect. If a person is being open they'll expose their palms, but just having their palms exposed makes it difficult for the person to tell a convincing lie. This is because gestures and emotions are directly linked to each other. If you reel defensive, for example, you're likely to cross your arms across your chest. But if you simply cross your arms you'll begin to experience defensive feelings. And if you are talking with your palms exposed it puts even more pressure on the other person to be truthful too. In other words, open palms can help to suppress some of the false information others may tell and encourage them to be more open with you.

Palm Power

One of the least noticed, but most powerful, body signals is given by the human palm when giving someone directions or commands and in handshaking. When used in a certain way, Palm Power invests its user with the power of silent authority.

There are three main palm command gestures: the Palm-Up position, the Palm-Down position and the Palm-Closed-Finger-Pointed position. The differences of the three positions are shown in this example: let's say that you ask someone to pick up something and carry it to another location. We'll assume that you use the same tone of voice, the same words and facial expressions in each example, and that you change only the position of your palm.

The palm facing up is used as a submissive, non-threatening gesture, reminiscent of the pleading gesture of a street beggar and, from an evolutionary perspective, shows the person holds no weapons. The person being asked to move the item will not feel they are being pressured into it and are unlikely to feel threatened by your request. If you want someone to talk you can use the Palm-Up as a 'handover' gesture to let them know you expect them to talk and that you're ready to listen.

The Palm-Up gesture became modified over the centuries and gestures like the Single-Palm-Raised-in-the-Air, the Palm-Over-the-Heart and many other variations developed.

Palm Up

Palm up = non threatening

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, German leader in a Palm Down display of authority and power

When the palm is turned to face downwards, you will project immediate authority. The other person will sense that you've given them an order to move the item and may begin to feel antagonistic towards you, depending on your relationship with him or the position you have with him in a work environment.

Turning your palm from facing upwards to facing downwards completely alters how others perceive you.

For example, if the other person was someone of equal status, he might resist a Palm-Down request and would be more likely to comply if you'd used the Palm-Up position. If the person is your subordinate, the Palm-Down gesture is seen as acceptable because you have the authority to use it.

The Nazi salute had the palm facing directly down and was the symbol of power and tyranny during the Third Reich. If Adolf Hitler had used his salute in the Palm-Up position no one would have taken him seriously - they would have laughed.

Hitler

Adolf Hitler using one of history's most notable Palm-Down signals

When couples walk hand-in-hand the dominant partner, often the man, walks slightly in front with his hand in the above position, palm facing backwards while she has her palm facing forward. This simple little position immediately reveals to an observer who wears the loincloths in that family.

The Palm-Closed-Finger-Pointed is a fist where the pointed finger is used like a symbolic club with which the speaker figuratively beats his listeners into submission. Subconsciously, it evokes negative feelings in others because it precedes a right over-arm blow, a primal move most primates use in a physical attack.

Pointing Finger

Pointing finger - 'Do it or else!'

The Palm-Closed-Finger-Pointed gesture is one of the most annoying gestures anyone can use while speaking, particularly when it beats time to the speaker's words. In some countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines, finger pointing at a person is an insult as this gesture is only used to point at animals. Malaysians will use their thumb to point to people or to give directions.

An Audience Experiment

Researchers had conducted an experiment with a number of lecturers who were asked to use each of these three hand gestures during a series of ten-minute talks to a range of audiences with the attitudes of the participants to each lecturer recorded afterwards. The lecturers who had mostly used the Palm-Up position were perceived positively by 80%+ of participants, which dropped to around 50% when they delivered exactly the same presentation to another audience using mainly the Palm-Down position. The Finger-Pointed position recorded only a 30% positive response and some participants had walked out during the lecture.

Joseph McCarthy

The pointing finger creates negative feelings in most listeners

Finger pointing not only had the least amount of positive responses from the listeners; they also recalled less of what the speaker had said. If you are a habitual finger-pointer, try practicing the palm-up and palm-down positions and you'll find that you can create a more relaxed atmosphere and have a more positive effect on others. Alternatively, if you squeeze your fingers against your thumb to make an 'OK' type of gesture and talk using this position, you will come across as authoritative, but not aggressive. This gesture tactic has been taught to speakers and business leaders with good success as measured by audience reactions. The audiences who listened to the speakers who used the fingertip-touch gestures have described those speakers as 'thoughtful', 'goal-oriented' and 'focused'.

Barack Obama, Fingertips Together Tony Blair

Squeezing the thumb against the fingertips avoids intimidating the audience

Speakers who used the finger-pointed position were described as 'aggressive', 'belligerent' and 'rude' and recorded the lowest amount of information retention by their audience. When the speaker pointed directly at the audience, the delegates became preoccupied with making personal judgements about the speaker rather than listening to his content.

An Analysis of Handshake Styles

Shaking hands is a relic of our ancient past. Whenever primitive tribes met under friendly conditions, they would hold their arms out with their palms exposed to show that no weapons were being held or concealed. In Roman times, the practice of carrying a concealed dagger in the sleeve was common so for protection the Romans developed the Lower-Arm-Grasp as a common greeting.

Lower Arm Grasp

The Lower Arm Grasp - checking for concealed weapons - the original Roman method of greeting

The modern form of this ancient greeting ritual is the interlocking and shaking of the palms and was originally used in the nineteenth century to seal commercial transactions between men of equal status. It has become widespread only in the last hundred years or so and has always remained in the male domain until recent times. In most Western and European countries today it is performed both on initial greeting and on departure in all business contexts, and increasingly at parties and social events by both women and men.

The handshake evolved as a way men could cement a commercial deal with each other.

Even in places such as Japan, where bowing is the traditional greeting, and Thailand, where they greet using the Wai — a gesture that looks similar to praying — the modern handshake is now widely seen. In most places, the hands are normally pumped five to seven times but in some countries, for example Germany, they pump two or three times with an additional hold time equal to an extra two pumps. The French are the biggest glad-handers, shaking on both greeting and departure and spending a considerable time each day shaking hands.

Who Should Reach First?

Although it is a generally accepted custom to shake hands when meeting a person for the first time, there are some circumstances in which it may not be appropriate for you to initiate a handshake. Considering that a handshake is a sign of trust and welcome, it is important to ask yourself several questions before you initiate the hand shake: Am I welcome? Is this person happy to meet me or am I forcing them into it? Sales-People are taught that if they initiate a handshake with a customer on whom they call unannounced or uninvited, it can Produce a negative result as the buyer may not want to welcome them and feels forced to shake hands. Under these circumstances, salespeople are advised that it is better to wait for the other person to initiate the handshake and, if it is not forthcoming, use a small head-nod as the greeting. In some countries, shaking hands with a woman is still an uncertain practice (for example, in many Muslim countries it would be considered rude to do so; instead a small head-nod is acceptable), but it's now been found that women who initiate a firm handshake are rated - in most places - as more open-minded and make better first impressions.

How Dominance and Control Are Communicated

Considering what has already been said about the impact of the Palm-Up and Palm-Down gestures, let's explore their relevance in handshaking.

In Roman times, two leaders would meet and greet each other with what amounted to a standing version of modern arm wrestling. If one leader was stronger than the other, his hand would finish above the other's hand in what became known as the Upper Hand position.

Let's assume that you have just met someone for the first time and you greet each other with a handshake. One of three basic attitudes is subconsciously transmitted:

  1. Dominance: 'He is trying to dominate me. I'd better be cautious.'
  2. Submission: 'I can dominate this person. He'll do what I want.'
  3. Equality: 'I feel comfortable with this person.'

These attitudes are sent and received without our being aware of them, but they can have an immediate impact on the outcome of any meeting. With some practice in applying handshake techniques based on knowledge of how they are subconsciously interpreted you can dramatically influence any face-to-face meeting.

Dominance is transmitted by turning your hand so that your palm faces down in the handshake (see below). Your palm doesn't have to face directly down, but is the upper hand and communicates that you want to take control of the encounter.

Taking Control

Taking control

A study of 400 senior management executives (90% men) revealed that not only did almost all of the managers initiate the handshake, 90% of the men and 30% of the women also used the dominant handshake position. Power and control issues are generally less important to women, which probably accounts for why only one in three women attempted the Upper Hand ritual. Some women it was found will give men a soft handshake in some social contexts to imply submissiveness. This is a way of highlighting their femininity or implying that domination of her may be possible. In a business context, however, this approach can be disastrous for a woman because men will give attention to her feminine qualities and not take her seriously. Women who display high femininity in business meetings are not taken seriously by other business women or men, despite the fact that it's now fashionable or politically correct to say everyone is the same. This doesn't mean a woman in business needs to act in a masculine way; she simply needs to avoid signals of femaleness such as soft handshakes, short skirts and high heels if she wants equal credibility.

Women who display what would be readily interpreted as feminine body posturing in a serious business meeting often lose credibility.

In 2001, William Chaplin at the University of Alabama conducted a study into handshakes and found that extroverted personalities use firm handshakes while shy, neurotic personalities don't. Chaplin also found that women who are open to new ideas used firm handshakes. Men used the same handshakes whether they were open to new ideas or not. So it makes good business sense for women to practice firmer handshakes, particularly with men.

The Submissive Handshake

The opposite of the dominant handshake is to offer your hand with your palm facing upwards (as the man below on the right is doing), symbolically giving the other person the upper hand, like a dog exposing its throat to a superior dog.

Submissive Handshake

The submissive handshake

This can be effective if you want to give the other person control or allow him to feel that he is in charge of the situation if for example, you were making an apology.

While the palm-up handshake can communicate a submissive attitude, there are sometimes other circumstances to consider. A person with arthritis in their hands may be forced to give you a limp handshake because of their condition and this makes it easy to turn their palm into the submissive position. People who use their hands in their profession, such as surgeons, artists and musicians, may also give a limp handshake, purely to protect their hands. The gesture clusters they use following their handshake will give further clues for your assessment of them - a submissive person will use more submissive gestures and a dominant person will use more assertive gestures.

How to Create Equality

When two dominant people shake hands, a symbolic power struggle takes place as each person attempts to turn the other's palm into the submissive position. The result is a vice-like handshake with both palms remaining in the vertical position and this creates a feeling of equality and mutual respect because neither is prepared to give in to the other.

Communicating Equality

Communicating equality

How to Create Rapport

There are two key ingredients for creating rapport in a handshake. First, make sure that yours and the other person's palms are in the vertical position so that no one is dominant or submissive. Second, apply the same pressure you receive. This means that if, on a firmness scale of 1-10, your handshake registers a 7 but the other person is only a 5, you'll need to back off 20% in strength. If their grip is a 9 and yours is a 7, you'll need to increase your grip by 20%. If you were meeting a group of ten people, you'd probably need to make several adjustments of angle and intensity to create a feeling of rapport with everyone and to stay on an equal footing with each person. Also keep in mind that the average male hand can exert around twice the power of the average female hand, so allowances must be made for this. Evolution has allowed male hands to exert a grip of up to 100 pounds (45kg) for actions such as tearing, gripping, carrying, throwing and hammering.

Remember that the handshake evolved as a gesture to say hello or goodbye or to seal an agreement so it always needs to be warm, friendly and positive.

How to Disarm a Power Player

The Palm-Down Thrust is reminiscent of the Nazi salute and is the most aggressive of all handshakes because it gives the receiver little chance of establishing an equal relationship. This handshake is typical of the overbearing, dominant person who always initiates it, and their stiff arm with palm facing downwards forces the receiver into the submissive position.

The Palm-Down Thrust

The Palm-Down Thrust

If you feel someone is giving a Palm-Down Thrust to you on purpose, here are several counters to it:

1. The Step-to-the-Right Technique

If you receive a dominant handshake from a power player - and it's mostly men who do it - it is not only difficult to turn his palm back up into an equal position, but it's obvious when you do it.

This technique involves first stepping forward with your left foot as you reach to shake hands. This takes a little practice, as stepping forward on the right foot is the natural position for 90% of people when shaking with the right hand.

Power Player Attempts Handshake Control

The power player attempts to control by extending his hand, palm down, for a handshake

Dominant Handshake Initiated

The power player makes contact, starting the dominant handshake as he expects

Proactive Player Steps Forward

The person in the submissive position initially with his palm up steps forward on his left foot and towards his own right, beginning to move across the power player's personal space

Next, step forward with your right leg, moving across in front of the person and deeper into his personal space (marginally off to the power player's left hand side). This forces the power player's hand close to his body in front of him. Due to the structure and mechanics of the arm and shoulder, particularly for men, the power player's hand must rotate to a vertical orientation. This tactic allows you to re-orient the handshake with palms vertical, creating equal power between both people. By merely entering the power player's personal space, one achieves a greater degree of control over the encounter.

Proactive Player Turns Palms Sideways In Handshake

Walk across in front with your right leg and turn his palm sideways to execute a handshake with both people having equal control

Analyze your own approach to shaking hands and notice whether you step forward on your left or right foot when you extend your arm to shake hands. Most people are right footed and are therefore at a disadvantage when they receive a dominant handshake because they have little room to move and it allows the other person to dominate. Practice stepping into a handshake with your left foot and you will find that it is easier to deal with the power players who would try to control you.

2. The Hand-on-Top Technique

When a power player presents you with a Palm-Down Thrust, respond with your hand in the Palm-Up position then put your left hand over his right to form a Double-Hander and straighten the handshake.

The Double-Hander

The Double-Hander

This switches the power from him to you and is a much simpler way of dealing with the situation, and is much easier for women to use. If you feel the power player is purposefully trying to intimidate, and he does it regularly, grasp his hand on top and then shake it (as below). This can shock a power player so you need to be selective when using it and do it only as a last resort.

A Wrist Hold

A Wrist Hold as a last resort

The Cold, Clammy Handshake

No one likes receiving a handshake that feels like you've been handed four cold breakfast sausages. If we become tense when meeting strangers, blood diverts away from the cells below the outer layer of the skin on the hands - known as the dermis - and goes to the arm and leg muscles for 'fight or flight' preparation. The result is that our hands lose temperature and begin to sweat, making them feel cold and clammy and resulting in a handshake that feels like a wet salmon. Dry your palms immediately before meeting someone important so you don't make a poor first impression. Alternatively, before a new meeting, simply visualize that you are holding your palms in front of an open fire. This visualization technique is proven to raise the temperature of the average person's palm by 3-4 degrees.

Gaining the Left Side Advantage

When two leaders stand side by side for media photographs, they try to appear equal in physical size and dress code but the one who stands to the left of the picture is perceived by viewers to have a dominant edge over the other. This is because it is easier to gain the upper hand when they shake, making the one to the left of the photograph appear to be in control. This is obvious in the handshake that took place between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon prior to their television debate in 1960. At that time the world was ignorant about body language but, on analysis, JFK appears to have had an intuitive understanding about how to use it. He made a practice of standing on the left-hand side of a photograph, and applying the Upper-Hand position was one of his favorite moves.

JFK - Nixon

Gaining the Upper Hand - JFK using the left-hand side advantage to put Richard Nixon into the weaker-looking position

Their famous election debate revealed a remarkable testimony to the power of body language. Polls showed that the majority of Americans who listened to the debate on radio believed that Nixon was the victor but the majority of those who watched it on television believed Kennedy to be the clear winner. This shows how Kennedy's persuasive body language made the difference and eventually won him the Presidency.

Kirchner - Rousseff

Standing on the left side of shot gives Argentina President Cristina Kirchner the Upper Hand advantage over Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Nicolas Sarkozy - Hu Jintao
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy approached from the wrong side - the right side of the photograph - and walking into a dominant handshake

Nicolas Sarkozy - Barack Obama
Not to be outdone this time, Nicolas Sarkozy positions himself well ... and the smile shows it!

When Men and Women Shake Hands

Even though women have had a strong presence in the workforce for several decades, many men and women still experience degrees of fumbling and embarrassment in male/female greetings. Most men report that they received some basic handshaking training from their fathers when they were boys, but few women report the same training. As adults, this can create uncomfortable situations when a man reaches first to shake a woman's hand but she may not see it - she's initially more intent on looking at his face. Feeling awkward with his hand suspended in mid-air, the man pulls it back hoping she didn't notice but as he does, she reaches for it and is also left with her hand dangling in a void. He reaches for her hand again and the result is a mish-mash of tangled fingers that look and feel like two eager squid in a love embrace.

Initial meetings between men and women can be thrown off by poor handshake technique.

If this ever happens to you, intentionally take the other person's right hand with your left, place it correctly into your right hand and say with a smile 'Let's try that again!' This can give you an enormous credibility boost with the other person, because it shows you care enough about meeting them to get the handshake right. If you are a woman in business, a wise strategy is to give notice to others that you intend to shake hands so as to not catch them off guard. Hold your hand out as early as possible to give clear notice of your intention to shake hands and this will avoid any fumbling.

The Double-Hander

A corporate favorite the world over, this is delivered with direct eye-contact, a candidly reassuring smile and a confident loud repetition of the receiver's first name, often accompanied by an earnest inquiry about the receiver's current state of health.

Double Hander

The Double-Hander

This handshake increases the amount of physical contact given by the initiator and gives control over the receiver by restricting his right hand. Sometimes called the 'politician's handshake', the initiator of the Double-Hander tries to give the impression he is trustworthy and honest, but when it's used on a person he's just met, it can have the reverse effect leaving the receiver feeling suspicious about the initiator's intentions. The Double-Hander is like a miniature hug and is acceptable only in circumstances where a hug could also be acceptable.

Ninety per cent of humans are born with the ability to throw the right arm in front of the body - known as an over-arm blow - for basic self-defense. The Double-Hander restricts this defense capability, which is why it should never be used in greetings where a personal bond doesn't exist with the other person. It should be used only where an emotional bond already exists, such as when meeting an old friend. In these circumstances, self-defense is not an issue so the handshake is perceived as genuine.

Obama Double Handshake

Barack Obama on the receiving end of a Double-Hander

Handshakes of Control

The intention of any two-handed handshake is to try to show sincerity, trust or depth of feeling for the receiver. Two significant elements should be noticed. Firstly, the left hand is used to communicate the depth of feeling the initiator wants to convey and this is relative to the distance the initiator's left hand is placed up the receiver's right arm. It's like an intention to embrace and the initiator's left hand is used like a thermometer of intimacy - the further up the receiver's arm it's placed, the more intimacy the initiator is attempting to show. The initiator is both attempting to show an intimate connection with the receiver while, at the same time, attempting to control their movement.

For example, the Elbow Grasp conveys more intimacy and control than the Wrist Hold, and the Shoulder Hold conveys more than the Upper-Arm Grip.

The Wrist Hold

The Wrist Hold

The Elbow Grasp

The Elbow Grasp

The Upper-Arm Grip

The Upper-Arm Grip

The Shoulder Hold

The Shoulder Hold

Secondly, the initiator's left hand is an invasion of the receiver's personal space. In general, the Wrist Hold and the Elbow Grasp are acceptable only where one person feels close to the other and in these cases the initiator's left hand enters only the outer edge of the receiver's personal space. The Shoulder Hold and Upper-Arm Grip show close intimacy and may even result in a hug ('personal space' will be covered more in Chapter 11). Unless the intimate feelings are mutual or the initiator doesn't have a good reason for using a double-handed handshake, the receiver will probably be suspicious and mistrust the initiator's intentions. In summary, if you don't have some sort of personal bond with the other person, don't use any Double-Hander. And if the person who gives you one doesn't have a personal connection with you, look for their hidden agenda.

Unless you and the other person have a personal or emotional bond, only use a single-handed handshake.

It's common to see politicians greeting voters using double-handed handshakes and businesspeople doing it to clients without realizing it can be business and political suicide, putting people offside.

The Blair-Bush Power Game

During the Iraq conflict in 2003, George W Bush and Tony Blair presented to the media the image of a powerful alliance that was 'united and equal', but close analysis of photographs shows strong power plays by George Bush.

Bush - Blair

Out-dressed and out-gunned: George Bush putting the Upper Hand on Tony Blair

In the above picture, Bush leans in to deliver the Upper Hand from the left side of the photograph. Bush is dressed like an Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief and Blair is dressed like an English schoolboy meeting the headmaster. Bush has his feet firmly planted together on the ground and is using a Back Hold to control Blair. Bush regularly jockeys for the position left-of-picture, allowing him to be perceived as dominant and to look as if he were calling the shots.

The Solution

To avoid losing power if you inadvertently find yourself on the right-of-picture, extend your arm early as you approach from a distance as this forces the other person to face you straight on to shake hands. This lets you keep the handshake on an equal basis. If photos or video are being shot, always approach the other person so you occupy the left-of-picture position. At worst, use a Double-Hander to give yourself an equal footing.

The World's Eight Worst Handshakes

Here are eight of the world's most annoying and disliked handshakes and their variations. Avoid them at all times:

1. The Wet Fish

Credibility Rating: 1/10.

Few greetings are as uninviting as the Wet Fish, particularly when the hand is cold or clammy. The soft, placid feel of the Wet Fish makes it universally unpopular and most people associate it with weak character, mainly because of the ease with which the palm can be turned over. It is read by the receiver as a lack of commitment to the encounter, but there may be cultural or other implications - in some Asian and African cultures a limp handshake is the norm and a firm handshake can be seen as offensive. Also, one in twenty people suffer from a condition called hyperhydrosis, which is a genetic condition that causes chronic sweating. It's wise to carry tissues or a handkerchief for mop-up strategies before any bout of handshaking.

The Wet Fish

The Wet Fish

The palms have more sweat glands than any other part of the body, which is why sweaty palms become so obvious. Surprisingly, many people who use the Wet Fish are unaware they do it so it's wise to ask your friends to comment on your handshake style before deciding what you'll use in future meetings.

2. The Vice

Credibility Rating: 4/10.

This quietly persuasive style is a favorite of men in business and reveals a desire to dominate and assume early control of the relationship or put people in their place. The palm is presented in the down position with one sharp downward pump followed by two or three vigorous return strokes and a grip that can even stop blood flow to the hand. Sometimes it will be used by a person who feels weak and fears they will be dominated by others.

Vice Handshake

The Vice

3. The Bone-Crusher

Credibility Rating: 0/10.

A second cousin to the Vice, the Bone-Crusher is the most feared of all handshakes as it leaves an indelible memory on the recipient's mind and fingers and impresses no one other than the initiator. The Bone-Crusher is the trademark of the overly aggressive personality who, without warning, seizes the early advantage and attempts to demoralize his opponent by grinding his knuckles to a smooth paste. If you are female, avoid wearing rings on your right hand in business encounters as the Bone-Crusher can draw blood and leave you to open your business dealings in a state of shock.

The Bone-Crusher

The Bone-Crusher

Unfortunately, there are no effective ways to counter it. If you believe someone has done it on purpose, you could bring it to everyone's attention by saying, 'Ouch! That really hurt my hand. Your grip is too strong.' This puts the advocate of the Bone-Crusher on notice not to repeat the behavior.

4. The Finger-Tip Grab

Credibility Rating: 2/10.

A common occurrence in male—female greetings, the Finger-Tip Grab is a handshake that missed the mark and the user mistakenly grabs the other person's fingers. Even though the initiator may seem to have an enthusiastic attitude towards the receiver, he in fact lacks confidence in himself. In these circumstances, the main aim of the Finger-Tip Grab is to keep the receiver at a comfortable distance. The Finger-Tip Grab can also result from personal space differences between the people in the handshake. This could happen if one person's intimate space was two feet (60cm) and the other's was three feet (90cm), the latter stands further back during greeting so the hands don't connect properly.

The Finger-Tip Grab

The Finger-Tip Grab

If this happens to you, take the other person's right hand with your left and place it correctly in your right hand and say, with a smile 'Let's try that again!' and shake hands equally. This builds your credibility because you are telling the other person that you think they are important enough for you to get it right.

5. The Stiff-Arm Thrust

Credibility Rating: 3/10.

Like the Palm-Down Thrust, the Stiff-Arm Thrust tends to be used by aggressive types and its main purpose is to keep you at a distance and away from their personal space. It's also used by people raised in rural areas, who have larger personal space needs and want to protect their territory.

The Stiff-Arm Thrust

The Stiff-Arm Thrust

These people will even lean forward or balance on one foot to keep their distance when delivering a Stiff-Arm Thrust.

6. The Socket-Wrencher

Credibility Rating: 3/10.

A popular choice of power players and common cause of watering eyes and, in extreme cases, torn ligaments. This is the father of the Bent-Arm-Pull-In, and involves forcefully gripping the receiver's outstretched palm, then simultaneously applying a sharp reverse thrust, attempting to drag the receiver into the initiator's territory. This results in loss of balance and gets the relationship off on the wrong foot.

The Socket-Wrencher

The Socket-Wrencher

Pulling the receiver into the initiator's territory can mean one of three things: first, the initiator is an insecure type who feels safe only within his own personal space; second, the initiator is from a culture that has smaller space needs; or third, he wants to control you by pulling you off balance. Either way, he wants the encounter to be on his terms.

7. The Pump Handle

Credibility Rating: 4/10.

With strong rural overtones, the pumper grabs the hand of the pumpee and commences an energetic and rhythmic series of rapid vertical strokes.

While up to seven pumps is acceptable, some pumpers continue to pump uncontrollably as if they are trying to draw water from the pumpee.

The Pump Handle

The Pump Handle

Occasionally, the pumper will cease pumping but continue to hold the receiver's hand to prevent their escape and, interestingly, few people try to pull their hand away. The act of being physically connected seems to weaken our resolve to retreat.

8. The Dutch Treat

Credibility Rating: 2/10.

Being somewhat vegetarian in approach, this handshake has its origins in the Netherlands, where a person can be accused of 'Geeft 'n hand als bosje worteljes' meaning 'Giving a handshake like a bunch of carrots'. It's a distant relative of the Wet Fish but with stiffer, straight fingers and less clammy to the touch.

The Dutch Treat

The Dutch Treat

It has been superseded in younger generations by De Slappe Vaatdoek, or Sloppy Dishcloth. This needs no further explanation.

The Arafat-Rabin Handshake

The photograph below shows the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Chairman Yassar Arafat shaking hands at the White House in 1993 and it reveals several interesting attitudes. President Clinton is, in fact, the key figure in the shot because of his unobstructed center position, extra height and Arms-Spread-Open-Palms gesture, reminiscent of a god presiding over his people.

Yitzhak Rabin and Yassar Arafat
Yitzhak Rabin (left) holds his ground using a Stiff-Arm Thrust to resist being pulled forward as Yassar Arafat attempts a Bent-Arm-Pull-In

In this famous shot, both men keep their feet firmly planted on the ground and attempt to force the other out of his territory - Yitzhak Rabin assumed the power position on the left side of the picture and used a Stiff-Arm Thrust and leaned forward to keep Arafat out of his personal space while Yassar Arafat stood absolutely erect and attempted to counter with a BentArm-Pull-in.

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney
Businessman Donald Trump is not shy making his move on former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney

Summary

Few people have any idea how they come across to others in initial meetings, despite the fact that most of us are aware that the first few minutes of that meeting can make or break a relationship. Take the time to practice handshake styles with your friends and colleagues and you can quickly learn how to deliver a positive handshake every time. Keeping the palms held vertical and matching the other person's grip is usually perceived as a 10/10 handshake.

Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Table of Contents, Body Language Resources Page
Previous Section Next Section