The handshake is a very powerful body language gesture. You can form an instant impression of someone by the way they shake hands with you and it can also tell you a considerable amount about the person you are dealing with. Until recently the handshake was predominantly a male body language gesture and women, unless they were of a higher social class, did not shake hands. However, times have changed and there are now many more women in business and the workplace and so both men and women use the handshake.
The friendly handshake
When you greet someone you should walk forwards with your arm outstretched, not too stiff but with your elbow tucked into your waist. You should smile and hold the other person’s eye contact.
As I mentioned above, since the handshake is not the usual form of greeting for women, many men are not sure if they should shake hands with women. So, in order to eliminate this problem, women should offer their hand first.
Your handshake should be firm and dry. It is not always easy to know if you are giving a good handshake, as people won’t tell you. To find out what your handshake is like why not shake hands with someone whose opinion you trust and ask them honestly to tell you. Do you need to firm it up? Is it perhaps too strong and you need to relax it a little?
Take the whole hand and not just the fingertips. Do not pump the hand but shake it and then release it.
Building rapport through the handshake
Be attuned to the person you are shaking hands with. If they give you a firm handshake try and return the pressure, not so that you get into a wrestling match with them but just slightly. If their handshake is weaker than yours, then relax yours. This is all part of building rapport. You are in fact mirroring their body language – but more about this later.
The dominant person’s handshake
Be aware of the length of time you hold onto someone’s hand. Too long and this can be viewed as a dominant body language gesture.
I find this particularly irritating and offensive but there is little you can do about it apart from trying to wrest your hand away, which would look silly and be rather pointless. So instead force yourself to keep good steady eye contact with this person, who will also be using dominant eye contact on you – it almost becomes a battle of wills – and keep smiling, not grinning inanely, or aggressively gritting your teeth, but smiling pleasantly.
The dominant person’s handshake will be very strong, almost too strong and again, so as to avoid being cast into an inferior role in this relationship, you should return the pressure giving the non-verbal signal that you are no pushover.
The superior person’s handshake
This has many of the traits stated above. The superior (and dominant) person can offer his hand to you from a great distance away; his arm will be outstretched and stiff as he walks towards you, then he will take your hand in his vice-like grip.
He may also do the double clutch handshake, which is sometimes referred to as the Politician’s Handshake – watch newsreels to see just how many politicians use this! Here he puts his other hand on top of yours.
Your reaction? Well try putting your hand on top of his like playing ‘pat a cake’. By doing this you are effectively saying ‘Oh no you’re not in charge, I am equally superior and dominant as you ‘even if you don’t feel you are’ – it works.
A variation of this superior body language is where the person shakes your hand but also touches your shoulder.
If this is man-to-man and the other man is known to you then it can be interpreted as a friendly gesture. But if you have just met this man for the first time, or don’t know him very well, it can be interpreted as a dominant, superior gesture.
If a man touches a woman’s upper arm then it is more of an intimate gesture as is a man touching a woman’s back.
Women tend to touch each other more than men and would usually touch the lower arm.
Touching a person’s elbow, either man or woman, is a friendly gesture and usually prompts a positive response.