What's in a handshake?

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph by Richard Alleyne claimed that your handshake is key to landing a job.  The article was based on research from the University of Iowa that found that job applicants with a firm handshake are far more likely to get the job than those with a limp grip.

The evidence was even stronger in the case of women where a firm handshake was seen as being even more important.

Professor George Stewart, who led the research programme said: “We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview”.  “The handshake is one of the first nonverbal clues we get about the person's overall personality, and that impression is what we remember.”

This raised the question as to what sort of handshake people should use and reminded me of an amusing list of handshake styles I once read.  I have reproduced it below for your interest:

  • The All-American - This is the handshake used by most leaders and corporate executives.  The person delivering it will look you right in the eye, fully engage your hand, smile and pump your hand two or three times.  This handshake expresses a feeling of relaxed self-confidence.  The person using it will be open, trustworthy and willing to listen.  There's no hidden agenda here.  He or she is a good "people" person and can be trusted completely.
  • The Lingering Handshake - This one is firm with a warm grasp and two or more pumps.  The end of the handshake pauses or lingers.  The lingering quality may denote openness and sincerity, or it may suggest that the person has something up his/her sleeve.  Trust your gut feeling about what the shake means.  Check the person out carefully if the other signals you get warrant it.  If you find that the other person is sincere, he or she will be an excellent candidate for a job or a promotion.  I would recommend that you offer people a combination of the All-American and the Lingering handshake.  This will send the message that you're open and friendly, while allowing you to pick up the other person's signals.
  • The Push-Off - Even though this grip may be firm and warm, at the end your hand is pushed or flicked away.  The Push-Off can range from a slight stiff-arm to a flat-out rejection.  This handshake implies that the other person has a strong need to establish his or her own territory and agenda.  He or she will tend to be a stand-offish person without good "people" skills.  This person will probably not make a good manager.
  • The Pull-In - This person holds on to your hand to pull you closer or direct you through a door or toward a chair.  This is a somewhat manipulative handshake.  Because this type of person is a controller who wants things done certain way, he or she may not be a good team player.  If the organisation's goals conflict with this person's goals, there will be a problem.
  • The Two-Handed Shake - During this handshake, the person's right hand will grab yours while the left hand grasps your wrist, forearm, biceps, shoulder, or neck The higher the left hand, the greater the manipulation and control.  This is the favourite handshake of politicians because it implies a quick sincerity and intimacy.  This person is trying to sell you something that's not really there, e.g., "we're great friends."  He or she would probably not make a good salesperson because other people will tend not to trust this "used car salesman" shake.
  • The Topper - The dominant party in this handshake has his/her palm facing down in relation to the other person.  Like the winner of an arm wrestling match, the hand on top is clearly in control.  To retain equality, simply step into this handshake with your left foot.  This handshake says "I'm in charge, I'm the Boss." It tends to be the handshake of the conventional boss or manager who manages through control.  If this person is too controlling, this can limit his/her effectiveness with other people.
  • The Finger Squeeze - Like the push-off, the finger squeeze is used to keep someone at a comfortable distance.  This kind of handshake will hurt your hand.  This is a very insecure type of person who equates brute strength with personal power.  They use their hands as weapons to dominate and overpower people.
  • The Bone Crusher - This handshake will tend to turn other people off.  However, if this person matures, he or she can be a strong leader.
  • The Palm Pinch - This person just offers you two or three fingers.  It is usually given by a woman who hasn't learned how to shake hands properly or who has a fear of intimacy.  This person will tend not to be very good at interpersonal skills.  If you're going to promote the Bone Crusher or the Palm Pincher, you should tell them to shift to the All-American shake.
  • The Twister - In this one, the other person grabs your hand normally but aggressively twists it under his/her hand at the end.  This person is saying, "We may be coming into this as equals, but in the end I'll be on top." This person can turn on you.  You may think you're in control, but he/she will attempt to catch you off guard.  This is a deceitful or devious type of person.  Don't gloss over the Twister too lightly.  The Twister is a major red flag for a serious background check.  This candidate may not be a good team player or a good security risk.
  • The Dead Fish - We all know people who offer this kind of cold, clammy, indifferent handshake.  It tends to drain your energy.  This individual tends to be somewhat passive or apathetic.  This type of employee will usually be better with computers, machines and information than with people.  If he/she has good technical skills, don't promote him/her to a managerial position.  Dead Fish handshakers probably won't have the energy and interest necessary for that type of work.

The conclusion of the research from the University of Iowa was that a firm grip, eye contact and a vigorous up-and-down movement was best. 


About the Author
Alistair Schofield is Managing Director of Extensor Limited.