• Jan Gleisner

What can you tell from a handshake?

Next after the head, hands stands for most of the nonverbal communication, where the handshake is perhaps the most outspoken and well known gesture. But besides saying "hello" and "thank you" this gesture contain several nonverbal cues: It can reveal ambition and degree of self-esteem, honesty and willpower. Have a look at the cues below and realize that you've probably experienced most of them, maybe without knowing their meaning. We'll have a look at some of them here below - both how they could be understood and how they can be replied. First some words about the handshake as phenomenon.

Handshake - nonverbal communication

As a young human race

we lived in tribes and rivalry thrived between them. When meeting up members from another tribe you could not be sure if you would be welcomed or whacked. A way of getting around these tricky situations were to show that non of you were ready to strike with a weapon. Like when showing empty hands or gripping each others right hand. The handshake has then moved on in time as a gesture of greeting, showing trust and gratitude.

Variations in handshake

No handshake

Imagine that person A reaches out a hand towards person B, but B does not do the same. Seen in the light of history, this is a quite brutal message from B, saying that A is either not welcome , mistrusted or both. If this it wasn't an obvious mistake, B would lever the expected lack of behavior, perhaps by follow up with an explanation that he/she for example doesn't want to pass on a contagious decease to A.

Half the handshake

Have you noticed, that sometimes a handshake is not really fulfilled: Your opponent (or yourself) may only grip a couple of fingers instead av the hand. This happens when one or both of you doesn't out far enough. This may come from a feeling of insecurity - it's safer to keep your arms closer to the body instead of risking them in "close combat". The solution is to simply reaching out at little further. Moving closer is another option, but be aware of not breaching into the others personal space, as that he/she may experience that a bit intimidating.

Twice the handshake

Sometimes you'll have more handshake than expected, when someone grabs your hand with both of his/her, telling you non verbally that you're now in his/her custody. This can be a nice thing if it is done by someone you already trust, like a close friend or relative - that person probably is really happy to see you and want you to stay. But if stranger is doing this it may be an attempt to gain your trust through manipulation (perhaps for the next political election or such). A firm handshake with right hand while patching your back or upper right arm would mean about same thing.

Dominant handshake

That person who reaches out a dominant hand tilts the hand palm more or less downward, and maybe even swiping his/her arm in from far right making in a large movement. This approach pushes you into an awkward reply as you can only meet up from underneath, with your palm tilted upward. Here the dominant person hide his own hand palm while forcing you to fully expose your. If you get this handshake, be prepared to be run over (perhaps to make you buy something you don't want). But you can disarm this dominant initiative, if you're up for a little power struggle. Instead of moving in from underneath to meet his/her hand you can grab with a dominant hand yourself, from above. Here you won't grab like in a normal handshake but instead put your palm over the upper side of his/her hand, giving you "the upper hand". From here you can even drag it down a little while shaking it. Another approach is to fulfill de awkward handshake but from there take control:, While still holding hands, move your body slightly to your left, turning it slightly to your right and with your left hand patch him/her on his/her right shoulder. The movement will force hand palm to turn upwards at the same time as you go into a flank position, leaving your opponent with an undefended front and pressing him down (not with force, but symbolically) by the shoulder.

Inferior handshake

Is the opposite to the dominant handshake, closing in with the hand palm more or less tilted upwards. While this person may not be a threat to you, you may consider sharing some of your power, so that both of you can move on from a more equal level. Just reach out your hand like for a normal handshake with your hand palm in a straight angle towards the ground, letting the other person to straighten up his/her hand, making him/her less exposed and defenseless.

Hard grip

If your getting your hand squeezed hard it probably is not because this person is extraordinary strong but because he (seldom a woman) want show strength. People in general know how much strength is fair in a handshake. Using excessive strength then indicates a need to impress and/or frighten the opponent. If you have the physical strength you can of course join step up and perhaps win it, macho style. You can also disarm with a completely loose grip as a respond - giving no resistance at all, acknowledging the opponents urge to use excessive force and in the same reply showing your disliking of it - you win in Ghandi style. Or a more subtle way: Respond with a completely normal grip (and poker face), not acknowledging the eagerness and not encouraging the behavior. Yo will probably gain more respect from this mature respond. To avoid squeezing you can, while going into the grip, place your index finger and long finger along his wrist instead of including them in your grip. This will make difficult for him to put that much power into his squeeze, and he will maybe feel foolish after being tricked this way.

Firm grip

This is by most seen as the optimal grip, making a good contact but not going into a power struggle. It is associated with someone who is trustworthy and balanced while a slightly stronger grip adds a strong will power to the image.

Weak grip

This may reflect a weak hand or a weak will power. If faked it may reflect defiance. You should check other cues to make sure which one it is, as faker may play soft but be able of backstabbing.

The shaking

One or two shakes would be normal. More than that may indicate that the person greeting you is very excited to meet you, may it be by joy or desperation.

Wet handshake

A damp hand may (if you can exclude the possibility of heat and hand washing) indicate nervousness. A bit stronger indication if the hand is cold at the same time.


Read many cues when assessing a persons body language. And when done, try to get your conclusion confirmed. As the handshake usually initiate and conclude important meetings and cooperations the gesture presses on the importance of nonverbal communication, what is actually being said. You now have some means to help you and your opponent to both reach a common level from where you together can go into healthy discussions.

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#handshake #nonverbalcue #silentcommunication #greeting #dominant #gesture #shoulder #arm #hands

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