The World In Your Handsby Gregory Stebbins, EdD

As sales professionals we’re told to make a “good first impression.” The most significant first impression we’ll make is shaking another person’s hand. Have you ever shaken hands with someone and recoiled because it felt like a dead fish or winced in pain from the bone crushing force exerted by the other person? Have you ever received feedback about your handshake?

More than the physical aspect is the psychological aspect. When two people connect physically, there is also unconscious communication taking place. We walk away from a handshake saying things like, “You know, I just felt real comfortable with her.” or “Don’t know why, I just don’t trust that guy.” Most people haven’t spent time probing the depths of this unconscious communication, they just have a “feeling,” or their “intuition” is telling them something.

So what can you tell from another person’s handshake? Or, more specifically what are you communicating through your handshake? Quite a bit, according to a study led by a University of Alabama associate professor of psychology. The study, directed by Dr. William Chaplin, reported that more extroverted people had firmer handshakes and that this usually made a much better first impression. Nothing new in that statement, but what was interesting was that women who had firmer handshakes were also evaluated positively. Women with firm handshakes were deemed more open than were women with less firm handshakes.  This runs counter to the stereotype about women being evaluated negatively when they take on traditional male characteristics (hand strength is one of these).

Other research into non-verbal communications have provided some refinement. Some of these will be obvious to you, others might not.

Sweaty Palms – Few people enjoy grabbing a wet rag. Shaking hands with a person that feels like a wet rag is very uncomfortable.  When a person is nervous their sympathetic nervous system often becomes overactive, sometimes resulting in sweaty palms.

Dead Fish – Cold, clammy, indifferent handshakes often indicate being passive or reserved. This handshake ranks as the number two least favored. These individuals are generally not people focused. Exceptions to the rule might be musicians and surgeons whose livelihood depends on sensitive hands.

Brush Off – A quick grasp and then a release that feels like your hand being shoved aside. This handshake is a statement of “it’s my turf and agenda that matter, yours doesn’t.” Listen first to what the person wants before talking about your ideas for them.

Controller – you feel your hand being pulled toward them or in a different direction, perhaps towards a chair. This person is a controller, which means dominating any inanimate or animate object in the room (that would include you). If your goals are different than their goals there may be challenges ahead.

Politician – your hand is firmly grasped as in a normal handshake. Their other hand may cover your the handshake or be placed on your forearm or shoulder. Unless the two of you are good friends this is a form of false sincerity. The person is attempting to communicate that the two of you are good friends. I recommend you check your pockets or purse to see if any money is missing.

Finger Vise – Grabbing your fingers and not your entire hand is meant to keep you at a distance. These people are often insecure. If they also crush your fingers they are adding a show of personal power, which is also designed to keep you at a distance or at least create some fear of challenging them.

Bone Crusher – The message is clearly designed to intimidate you. Even when the person may not know how strong they are, there is still a message of intimidation and power behind the grip.

Lobster Claw – The palm of your hand is touched by their thumb and finger(s), not unlike the claw of a lobster. This person fears connecting at a deep level and may have challenges building relationships. As their people skills grow, their confidence will grow as well and their handshake will change.

Hand Wrestler – You hand is taken normally and then twisted under theirs. This is usually done aggressively. Be very careful as this person is absolutely committed to being on top, regardless of what they say they want.

Tea Cup – The handshake feels normal except that there is not palm to palm contact. Their palm is cupped, like a tea cup. This handshake indicates that the person is hiding something from you. It might be a serious case of shyness or something more substantial. Always check for missing information when working with this individual.


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About the Author:

Sales Psychology Expert Gregory Stebbins has helped over 10,000 sales professionals become the point of differentiation while their competitors struggle with how to differentiate their product and service. In his book PeopleSavvy for Sales Professionals, he unveils for the first time his simple but groundbreaking plan to win your customers’ trust and business forever. Get your free sneak preview at