Everyone is talking about President Trump’s power handshakes, and today everyone is proud of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not allowing Trump to bully-handshake him at their White house meeting yesterday. I was contacted yesterday myself by Maclean’s Magazine for an interview on my thoughts on their non-verbal communication. That short video can be seen here, but be advised the interview was done before the video was made, so my comments do not necessarily match up with the images shown.
Are handshakes such a big deal? Well, yes, they are. They show non-verbal communication intentions on dominance, control, balance and openness. They are worthy of a bit of study, and I will give some tips on what to do or not do when shaking hands, particularly at a political or business function.
To start, ‘medium’ is the rule to remember. Walk at a medium pace, speak with medium voice/volume, gesture and shake hands with medium speed. This shows you are calm and in control of yourself.
After a calm approach, you should make sure you are engaged in eye contact and then smile as you extend your hand. Maintain good posture as you approach and extend the hand. Don’t bend at the waist (unless in Asia or with Asian delegates) and don’t over-extend your arm so you appear too eager and/or off-balance. Introduce yourself (e.g. Hello – I’m Ric. Nice to meet you!) and connect hands (not fingers) evenly, palm to palm. Be ‘firm but fair’ to the other people in your networking circles! Never crush a hand and never offer a seemingly ‘broken wrist’ or ‘just-fingers’ weak handshake. Both hands should be level – do not twist the hands to either extreme side, if possible. I am not a fan of twisting someone’s hand so that my palm is up and they have ‘the upper hand’ now, or vice versa. Let’s start off on equal footing, shall we?
Pump your hands 2-4 times, gently and evenly, and repeat the person’s name after they introduce themselves to help you retain that new information if necessary. There is usually no need for extra tactics, like using your free hand to clasp the hands while shaking (the double) or patting the shoulder of the person you are engaging (the pat-down). In the North American culture these extras are not necessary, but if someone does that to you, it’s almost natural to return the favour, to even the score. Go ahead and do unto others as they do unto you.
Dominant people may want you to enter a room first and will gesture to let you go first, and may even lightly touch/pat your back, as a ‘guide’ through the doorway. It looks polite (and it technically is) but it also is another example of them ‘steering’ you somewhere and being in control because they can see you the whole time, and you need to ‘trust’ them when they’re behind you. In evolutionary terms, you never wanted a potential predator or someone you didn’t know/trust to be behind you where you’re vulnerable to blind attack.
Regardless of what is in their mind or their style of greeting, you should always aim for a balanced and equal meet to start the relationship on the right foot. Just don’t be surprised if others have favourite tactics they wish to use on you. Whether it is at a formal business meeting or at a relaxed social outing, learning how to hand shake with balance and confidence, and learning how to match the other person’s style is all good practice! Go ahead – put your best hand forward! 🙂