In effort to research a better handshake I shook hands with a door to door salesman (against my primary instincts), my ex-employer, my father and brother in-law, my dentist, a lawyer, my accountant, my wife’s boss, my friends wife, my new tenants and thirty other potential tenants that came for a look, a real estate agent and his brother, a doctor, a university professor, a banker, my mortgage broker, a waiter and two new guys that showed up for poker night. In that time I’ve had just about everything imaginable done to my hand. It was twisted, crushed, pulled, slapped and rotated and lovingly held. My arm was hugged, pushed, rigorously pumped and yanked practically out of its socket.
From what little research exists on handshakes, the conclusion is that most people aren’t aware of what they are doing when they shake hands and so don’t know how their handshakes appear to others. The next time you get a chance, ask others what they thought of your handshake. Perhaps you carry some of the following traits in your handshake unintentionally.
Here’s a breakdown of the various bad handshakes that I have, and that you (hopefully won’t) experience:
1. The death grip
2. The cold dead wet fish
3. The limp fish
4. Short grabber/finger grabber
5. Stiff arm and trust forward
6. Wrench forward controller
7. Arm twister
8. Over pumper
9. Double gripper politician
10. The teacup
11. The undershaker
12. The oddball
The death grip 1: Those that employ a macho bone crushing grip have aggressive personalities and intend to try to dominant you from the start and while this is true, the origins of this handshake and personality usually lies in insecurity that fosters a need to prove himself at every instant. It says “I have the power over you and can cause you pain if I so desire.” They have no regard for how others perceive them and use pain to put people in their place. Rings on the fingers can make matters even worse, and I think they know it! You can put these people in their place by verbalizing your pain, and drawing other people’s attention to it jokingly. Most people wont have enough confidence to be vocal about it, which is how the death gripper gets his power, but if done properly can make others laugh and set yourself apart.
Instead of using bone crushing force, use moderate pressure and when in doubt match the pressure given by the other person to signify a desire for cooperation. If you wish to set the tempo in a relationship, then deliver only slightly more pressure than them. When applying for a job, a bone crushing handshake should be avoided at all costs. You do not want to send a dominant or hostile message to your potential boss.
The cold dead wet fish 2: The dead wet fish is another particularly disgusting handshake and it portrays negative emotions to anyone that receives it. Nervousness causes sweat or even a cold drink that is condensing causes our hands to become damp and clammy which is a turnoff to others who receive this nasty treat. Sometimes the hands simply sweat continuously and uncontrollably from a medical condition called hyperhidrosis which affects about five percent of the population. If you are meeting a large amount of people, as in a cocktail party, holding a drink in the left hand, rather than the right, is a good practice to keep it properly aired out and dry. Storing a napkin in the pocket can also help in wiping your hands discreetly before handshakes, but even absent of a napkin, wiping them on the inside of the leg inside a pant pocket can serve the trick. Women who usually lack attire with pockets can lightly wipe their hands on their clothing discretely, use a napkin that holds food, or better yet or make a few trips to the washroom if the problem is particularly severe. Keeping the hands out of your pockets is good advice too, since the added heat and moisture will only make matters worse. Sometime moisture issues are unavoidable and rather than dwelling on them raising anxiety further, it is better to focus on aspects that are more controllable such as pressure and connectivity.
The limp fish 3: The flaw in the limp fish handshake is that it has far too little pressure – the handshake has “no bones.” It can be so ineffective it is as though one is shaking the hand of a five-year-old and usually comes from people who are ill at ease with shaking hands and touching in general. The limp fish handshake comes from people who submit the handshake ritual but who find the handshake as a violation of their personal space. The credibility of this handshake is very low and makes people think that you are shy or timid, lack masculinity and interest, confidence, leadership or have poor people skills. You are far less likely to gain employment for positions requiring dominant traits such as management. Men also might resort to the limp fish when shaking hands with women, but this is a mistake. Today, women expect the same treatment that men do, so give them the respect they deserve and don’t let up, give a good firm handshake. When shaking hands always try to match grip pressure to the other person unless of course they have a weak handshake. If that’s the case, apply slightly more pressure, there is no need to overdue it. If you really wish to send a submissive handshake you can do so by letting up slightly, but be careful not to seem like a push-over.
Short grabber/finger grabber 4: Someone that grabs your fingers rather than your entire hand is trying to keep you at your distance and also put you in your place. Short grabbers are usually insecure but often try to hide this by coming off as dominant. If they add a crushing action in addition to the finger tip grab they are trying to send and even stronger message by displaying their physical power over you. Crushing is used to put a bit of fear into their partners so as to dismiss the likelihood of any future challenge against them. If by chance you accidentally grab the fingers of someone else which can happen when men shake hands with women, you can vocally suggest doing the handshake over again. A simple “sorry, that didn’t quite work, let’s give it another go” will suffice. This will show that you are concerned about starting off on the right foot to properly set the tone for the relationship.
Stiff arm and thrust forward 5: The stiff arm thrust forward happens when someone grabs your hand then pushes you backwards putting you off balance. It’s a common occurrence for those trying to maintain their distance. Take for example a city slicker and a country farmer who meet for the first time. The farmer might accept the handshake even though a wave would be more appropriate for their comfort and to keep his space will push his arm forward shoving the city slicker back. This sort of handshake can happen anytime a person requires more space than their partner and this isn’t always people from the country.
Wrench forward 6: Unlike the thrust forward, the wrench forward handshaker will pull people into their personal space. This is done by people who require less personal space. It happens during a normal handshake except that a person pulls sharply toward them forcing you off balance and moving you into their personal space. People who shakes hands in this way are trying to control the other person by moving them into their personal space against their will. They feel that they can influence them more efficiently by making them uncomfortable. They are also setting the other person off balance making them unable to properly respond. Another variation exists too where someone might pull you forward toward a chair, or move you to one side of the room as they desire. Someone that shakes hands like this is trying to set the tone for the relationship by controlling where you move next. Obviously, this is a sign that they want to dominate you.
Arm twister 7: The arm twister happens like any other normal handshake except that part way through the hand is twisted underneath into the submissive palm up position. Someone who does this is absolutely committed to being on top. Sometimes a dominant handshaker will also offer their palm facing upwards almost vertically making it nearly impossible to gain the upper hand position. An arm twister is someone that wants to dominate the relationship from the start, so your tactics should be adjusted accordingly. In future encounters, attempts should be made to rotate the palm back to an even, vertical position.
Over pumper 8: This guy thinks handshakes are like pulling water from a well. Your arm is not only vigorously pumped up and down and with force, but it’s done more than what anyone would call normal. Three pumps is recommended and usual, but up to seven can still be acceptable. However, more than ten or fifteen is getting excessive and the pumping action should never seem out of ordinary or particularly violent.
Double gripper politician 9: The double gripper where both hands are used to sandwich the other persons hand is the “politician’s handshake”. It’s an intimate handshake but in the wrong company can be taken as insincere and create negative feelings for the same reason it creates positive feelings when used by politicians – because it breaks privacy boundaries. Politicians and celebrities and other high status people are afforded greater luxuries than the rest of the population, which is why we tolerate and even encourage them to kiss our babies! However, even in politicians, touching is carefully calculated and practiced. The double handshake happens when the right hand’s join followed by the left hand placed (almost) lovingly over the right hand as if to form a glove. The higher up is the placement of the hand, the more intimate. We would only use this once a strong relationship has been formed to show affection or a deep desire to make amen’s. It might also be used to strike a particularly lucrative deal that both parties feel will greatly help each other. In everyday use, the double grip handshake has little place and instead of conveying positive emotions arouses suspicion and doubt. Other forms of touching during a handshake include the elbow, shoulder, upper arm or the wrist. These are fairly advanced ways of shaking hands and reserved for more aggressive and experienced handshakers. The higher up the touching occurs, the more intimate it is so can appear as a personal space invasion. The shoulder grip is the most intense form of intimacy used during handshakes and should be used only with those you have a strong emotional tie.
Secondary to the double gripper politician but not a category onto itself is a handshake that happens as normal except the inside of the wrist is stroked with the index finger during the hand shake pump. If this happens to you, you’re bound to feel shocked, as are most people as it was by design. This person is trying to evoke a visceral feeling in you that they have the upper hand and can do as they please. Think of the wrist tickler as a nonverbal way to assault but that is so subtle that no one else will notice except the person experiencing it. Be very weary of folks that try this handshake on you as they are definitely playing psychological mind games and may try to pull a fast one on you.
The teacup 10: This handshake is conducted like any other good handshake except that the palm is cupped such that it makes no contact with the other palm. Someone that shakes hands like this is either shy or insecure, doesn’t want to fully bond or is trying to hide something. These people might take more time to open up and fully reveal their true selves to others. Take your time with them and give them lots space to open up and instead of bantering on endlessly give them an open platform to express themselves.
The undershaker 11: This handshake is so quick, it’s actually offensive. It lasts merely seconds where the hand is quickly grabbed then released or tossed aside. Sometimes it even lacks any pumping action at all. Someone who shakes hands like this is showing indifference and suspicion, perhaps they feel you are trying to sell them something they aren’t at all interested in. Other times they are trying to signal that you are intruding on their ground and that no agreement will be made. It’s probably best to respect their wishes, as their initial impression shows that you have come on far too strong. Other times the undershaker resides in an area where physical contact isn’t normal and they aren’t used to shaking hands so don’t know how to properly handle it.
The Oddball 12: This is the sort of handshake your teenage son or daughter comes home with in effort to confusing the heck out of you! It’s the handshake that has you saying “You do what with what, then what?!?” It often includes bumps, slaps, flicks and clicks. This is a fine handshake amongst casual friends, but please avoid this on a job interview or with other employees. It does however, display a relaxed atmosphere and has its place to form intimate friendships and bonds.
Above: The types of handshakes.