This is probably a topic that has been beaten down so much that I’m almost embarrassed to write about it. But I can’t help it. You can tell a lot about a person from the way they shake hands with you. Whether they intend to let you know or not. How can that be? How do you know if the person doesn't have a weak hand or some other medical condition preventing them from doing any other type of handshake other than as though you are shaking hands with a piece of tissue paper? Or maybe the person does not know their own strength (which is why I can't feel my hand for a few minutes after I shake it with him)? How can you really tell a lot about a person by the way they shake hands with you? Read on and I’ll share some thoughts on that very topic…
A New Director, a New Boss
A number of years back, I was working at a large corporation in a department that supported a number of infrastructure areas. There were so many areas being covered by the group that I often wondered why all this responsibility was being placed under one group and not a few groups. Personally I thought there had to be changes coming because sooner or later something was going to break and when it did, it wouldn’t be pretty. Around the same time, the company was beginning to go through some financial difficulties that caused the rumor mill to begin working overtime. What was a main rumor topic? It was, “I hear there is a potential RIF coming!” (RIF = Reduction in Force or staff). This was enough to make many people become a little uneasy about the future of their positions at the company.
Soon after employees started hearing the buzz about a possible RIF, the vice president in charge of the division I was working in hired a new Director to run many of the organizations including mine. Usually when someone comes into a new position of leadership, they want to make their mark in the company. A way they usually do that is by re-organizing the departments.
My team had an opportunity within the next week or so to meet with the new director. During the meeting he told us that he had no intention of performing any re-organizations of the group I was a part of what-so-ever. He was smiling and sounded sincere. At the end of the meeting, when I went to shake his hand, he held my hand in a way and I almost wasn’t even feeling his hand there. It was almost as though he really didn’t want to shake my hand. More interestingly about the handshake was that as soon as I shook his hand, the feeling that this person was insincere and flat out lying to me was the first thing that flashed across my mind. Personally, I was taken completely off guard to the impression I received from him through his handshake. A sense of fear for my job at the time almost automatically came over me. Don’t know why, but it did. There were so many of us in the group that he actually wound up shaking my hand a second time before we left the room. Again, my feeling after the first handshake was re-enforced. After the meeting, many of the people in the department and I in separate meetings were discussing our impressions about the new director. What came out? How he made them feel as they shook hands with him. They all felt the exact same thing I did.
So what happened at that company later on with this new director? Ten days later I come into work to discover this new director has resigned and accepted a position at another company closer to his home. For a person at that level, a new position doesn’t just come about so quickly. There are numerous interviews that occur before an offer is made let alone a formal acceptance and confirmation. For me, that kind of explained the insincere feeling we all received from his handshake. It was pretty clear that this new director had no intention of staying with my company. He was simply buying his time with a paycheck to cover his immediate expenses until a better deal for him came about and there was already something in the works for him before he started with my company.
Types of Handshakes and What They (May) Say About You
Below are some forms of handshakes and what they often say about a person. Please note though that handshake expectation differs depending upon the culture the exchange is occurring in. With that said, the information below is based upon most Western cultures. Even within Western cultures, specific community groups may have their own views on what is proper and what is not for a handshake (e.g. It’s considered rude and completely unacceptable for a man to offer a handshake to a Hasidic Jewish woman if he is not the woman’s husband).
The Lingering Hand Shake: A standard hand shake with an extra few shakes and holding on for just a few seconds. I find this often happens when old friends meet or with a good bye to someone dear. Among business people, it can give a bit of a chance to communicate positive thoughts. Make sure to only do this with someone you know very well or else it can be taken in a completely wrong way.
The Water Pump: Similar to the lingering hand shake. With a water pump handshake, the person gets a hold of you and then they will pump your arm as if they are attempting to pump water out of an old fashioned faucet. Often, a water pumper will pump your hand anywhere from seven to ten times to even fifteen times before they stop. Once they stop pumping, they usually hold onto your hand until you work it out of their grasp. Usually accomplished by pulling away forcefully.
The Push Off: This is when at the end of the handshake your hand is pushed away. It may be subtle but it could be read as a negative message by the person on the receiving end of the push.
The Pull In: The handshakes results in one pulling the other closer. This often speaks of a controlling body language. How would you feel if someone pulled you closer to them while shaking your hand?
The Superior: If offered first palm down, it indicates superiority. It is the body language of a controlling person.
The Lesser: If offered first, palm up, it could indicate humility and that a person is there to serve.
The Finger Cruncher: Rather than grabbing across the palm, the fingers are grabbed and crushed. Is it sporty to give pain someone else a little pain during a handshake? This one can be painful. The person who does the finger cruncher will say they can’t judge their own strength but if you pay attention, note that they won’t do this while shaking a woman’s hand.
The Bone Cruncher: Much like the finger cruncher, the same vice like grip is around the hand. Enough said. Please see comment to the Finger Cruncher above.
The Palm Pincher: This is usually from a woman, and only a few fingers and thumb grasp the palm for the shake. This is actually the norm for a woman in some cultures. If a man shook your hand this way, it could be taken as being from a person who does not want to shake hands with you. Insincerity can often pop into a person’s head when a man shakes hands this way.
The Twister: This may start off as a normal shake but ends up with one twisting and putting the other on top. Sometimes a person is meaning to show warmth of empathy with this type of handshake, but quite often it’s interpreted to show a person to be of a controlling personality. Especially if it is incorporated with a pull in by the shaking hand prior to the other hand going on top. This type of handshake can also be seen as intrusive, or simply too personal.
The Dead Fish: This is one of my least favorites of all! It’s a cold, unemotional, sometimes wet shaking of hands. It is basically the definition of complete indifference towards the person they are shaking hands with. (Note: There are times when the person giving a "dead fish" type handshake may have a physical aiment giving them an inability to grip a person's hand any stronger.)
The Left Handed Shake: Those that give a left-handed handshake are seen as at the very least a little strange and at the most as down-right insulting. To some people it’s as bad as spitting in their face. Want to know why? In some cultures, you wipe your backside with your left hand. In many western cultures this is seen as a sign of complete disrespect to the other person so why would you do it in the first place.
There are just a few of the different types of handshakes out there. What are some comments or examples of handshakes that you’ve seen and experienced?
Gil Pizano is an experienced leader and management professional with over 17 years working with many Fortune 500 companies. He has an MBA from the University of Hartford's Barney School of Business along with a Bachelor of Science in engineering from the University of Hartford's College of Engineering.