Regardless of how you feel about it – germaphobes and the socially anxious must anticipate one with quaking dread – the handshake speaks volumes about you.
Don’t believe us? A 2000 University of Alabama study found that a person’s handshake is consistent over time and related to aspects of personality. Those with a firm handshake tend to be more extroverted and open to experience and less neurotic and shy than those with a limp handshake.
So what does your handshake say about you? Does it proclaim to the world that you’re confident and bold? Or does it mumble and look away, letting everyone know that you’re shy and neurotic?
The good news is, if you don’t like what your handshake says about you, you can change the conversation.
The Trump-Trudeau handshake
Have you seen the way U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands? When pressing the flesh with world leaders and Vice-President Mike Pence, he yanks their arms as if he were trying to start a lawnmower, and then pumps as if hoping to shake out trade deals. Trump’s handshake confirms many of the things people say about the man: that he’s controlling, insecure, and out to prove his bigliness.
Not so with our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who on Monday resisted Trump’s tug to deliver what many are calling the consummate handshake.
It’s confident yet deferential – he grips Trump’s hand, holds his shoulder to assert control, pumps a few times, and then allows the U.S. president to break the shake. The Twittersphere exploded after this exchange, with one user calling it “the biggest display of dominance in the history of Canada.”
That’s clearly hyperbole, but there’s no denying that it was a confident display that made the right first impression when encountering a man like Donald Trump.
The ideal handshake
Think back to the handshakes you’ve experienced in your life. There were probably a few that were limp and clammy, some that felt as if your hand were in a vise, and others that left you pondering, “When will this ever end?” That’s because the handshake is all about applying the right pressure and time.
Pressure is critical. A firm grip suggests confidence, openness, and warmth. Squeeze a little harder though and you might leave people wondering what exactly you’re trying to prove. Too little pressure, and you create the impression that you either lack confidence, or that you just want to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.
Then there’s time. You don’t want to rush the handshake. Breaking one off abruptly is rude and will leave the other individual feeling as if they were dealing with an internet provider’s customer service department. On the other (ahem) hand, you don’t want to linger either. Watch Trump shaking Shinzo Abe’s hand for a full 19 seconds and then look at the mixture of befuddlement and relief that washes over Abe’s face when the torment finally ends.
A long handshake is awkward and uncomfortable and signals desperation. Don’t overstay your welcome. A good handshake should only last 2-3 seconds at most.
Finally, like Trudeau, maintain eye contact, smile, and greet the other individual warmly. Looking away may indicate insecurity, a lack of confidence, and shyness.
A PSA: No fist bumps
Yes, the fist bump has become commonplace, but it’s inappropriate when you’re meeting with a client or in a job interview. It only undermines your professionalism, signaling immaturity, and a lack of awareness. Sure, it might be healthier than a handshake (in that fewer germs are transmitted through a fist bump), but when it comes to striking the balance between being professional and personal, the intimacy of a handshake still trumps all as a greeting. So save those fist bumps for friends and family.
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