Communicating Through Your Handshake – 10 Types and What They Say About the Person

handshakeThe innocent handshake tells so much about a person – if only you know what to look for.  I have shaken thousands of hands over the course of being in the business world for several decades.  Like you, I’ve encountered a variety of handshakes styles that various people use.  Some have been more comfortable than others and all have been revealing of the person’s character to some extent, regarding our upcoming interaction.

So what do you look for?  Since this is a fairly beefy topic (there are at least two dozen distinctly different handshakes) I will only touch on the highlights here of what different types of handshakes can communicate about the person, when meeting them for the first time

Cold, clammy, sweaty handshakes are obvious signs that the person is very anxious or nervous.   The sympathetic nervous system causes these physiological responses as the brain is processing whether to flee or fight.  If you encounter this handshake it would be most charitable to try to put this person at ease.

A handshake that starts out vertical and ends up twisted with his hand on top is a real power-play.  If you are attentive and noticed this happening you might not want to trust this person‘s integrity in the upcoming interaction completely.

When the person does a double hander, you would best be wary in dealings with him.  This is the politician’s handshake in that it indicates false sincerity, trying for a tighter intimacy than is warranted on the first meeting.  On the left-hand is covering the shaking right hands it is the most sincere, although still premature in the relationship.  When the left hand is placed on the forearm or the shoulder – watch out!  – he may be trying to get something out of you.

How about that soft or limp handshake?  While the person may potentially have a physical issue like arthritis or work in a hand-sensitive profession (i.e. a surgeon), barring that the soft handshake indicates insincerity.  And the limp handshake, the “dead fish”, communicates low self-esteem.  This last one is a career breaker as it shows a lack of commitment, nervous uncertainty, a reserved personality that is not people focused.  This weak and subservient handshake is very common among prison inmates.

As a female, my hand has been abused by the “bone crusher” on more than one occasion, a male who exerts so much pressure that it hurts.  This person may be overly enthusiastic but it is more likely an intimidation tactic.  In the upcoming dealing with the bone crusher you need to present yourself with strength.

Then there’s the brush off; the quick grasp then fast release handshake that connotes arrogance.  This person feels that they are in charge and their agenda is more important over yours.  Handle this best by hearing what they have to say before discussing your ideas.

Have you experienced your hand being pulled into the person during the handshake?  If so, then you have experienced a manipulator, a person who wants to dominate and lead the other person.  In dealing with this person looked to establish common ground so they can feel in control of the situation, while moving towards your objective.  But be careful about ending up someplace you didn’t want to be.

The opposite of the puller is the pusher who shakes your hand while his arm is fully extended so you can’t get close.  This person needs his space so be sure to give him the space requirement that he needs, physically and emotionally, during the upcoming meeting.

Ever been pinched by the lobster claw (thumb and forefinger pinch the palm while shaking hands)?  Building relationships is a challenge for this person who fears a deep connection.  Allow him to open up to you in his own pace and become comfortable with you to gain full acceptance.

Lastly is the domed handshake, when the person cups their palm to avoid palm-to-palm contact.  This one is a bit hard to notice as it can feel rather normal, but the proper firm handshake is web-to-web and palm-to-palm.  When you notice a cupped handshake the person is hiding something, perhaps shyness or maybe something more.  You would be wise to always check for missing information with this person.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  A handshake communicates volumes about the person.  Don’t miss this good source of information by not knowing what to look for and how to interpret it when shaking hands.  Much of this operates subconsciously, so the knowledgeable person can have a real communication advantage.

QUESTION: How’s your handshake?  What is it communicating about YOU?


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