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Gregory Stebbins

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Emerging Leaders - Making a Good First Impression Is in Your Hands

Posted: 09/09/2013 10:54 am

As a leader we're told to make a "good first impression." The most significant first impression we'll make is shaking another person's hand. Think about it; have you ever recoiled from a limp, dead fish handshake or winced in pain from a bone crusher? How about your end: do you know what your handshake is telling others about you?

More than just physical contact, a handshake conveys a wealth of psychological information. We walk away from a handshake saying things like, "You know, I just felt real comfortable with her" or "Don't know why, I simply don't trust that guy." Most people don't spend time probing the depths of this unconscious communication; they just have a "feeling," or a sense that their "intuition" is telling them something. However, there are things you can use by looking a little more closely at the experience.

What can you learn from another person's handshake? What are you communicating through your handshake? Quite a bit, according to a study directed by University of Alabama associate professor of psychology Dr. William Chaplin. The study 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--including hand strength.

Other research into non-verbal communications and specifically handshakes has provided some refinement on this idea. Much of this will be obvious to you, some might not. Regardless, not only will you get a sense of what your handshake communicates, you'll be able to refine your interaction with others based on what their handshake tells you.

Sweaty Palms - Few people enjoy grabbing a wet rag. Shaking hands with a person whose hand 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. Do what you can to put this individual at ease. If you tend to be nervous and have sweaty palms, you might discreetly blot your right hand on a handkerchief--or even on your pants or skirt--just before the handshake.

Dead Fish - Indifferent handshakes that feel like the person has no bones in their hand often indicate being passive or reserved. This handshake ranks as the number two least favored. Individuals with this type of clasp are generally not people-focused. Knowing this, you can tailor your presentation to de-emphasize the people aspect and focus more on the mechanical or thing-focused benefits. Exceptions to this rule might be musicians and surgeons whose livelihood depends on sensitive hands and who are therefore reluctant to open up to a bone crusher.

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 my agenda that matters, yours doesn't." Listen first to what the person wants before talking about your ideas.

Controller - You feel your hand being pulled toward the person or strongly guided in a different direction, perhaps towards a chair. People who do this are controllers, which means they want to dominate any inanimate or animate object in the room (and that would include you). If your goals are different than theirs there may be challenges ahead. Do more listening than talking and see if you can find common ground so these individuals can control the situation toward your desired objective.

Politician - Your hand is firmly grasped as in a normal handshake. However, their other hand may cover yours 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 have a deeper relationship than you actually have. After receiving this kind of handshake, I recommend you check your pockets or purse to see if anything is missing. Similarly, be cautious about relying on this person's word for anything and be attentive in your dealings with them.

Finger Vise - When someone grabs your fingers and not your entire hand it 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. I wouldn't recommend you be submissive, however it will serve your purpose to be somewhat deferential to them.

Bone Crusher - The message of squeezing your hand until you cringe 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. You don't have to pretend to be a wimp with them, and, in fact, they may respond positively to you if you present yourself with strength. Just don't get into a hand squeezing contest when you shake because then it becomes a competition and even if you win, you'll lose.

Lobster Claw -The palm of your hand is touched by the other person's thumb and finger(s), not unlike the claw of a lobster. The person doing this fears connecting at a deep level and may have challenges building relationships. Take your time, allow them to open up at their own pace. As they become more comfortable with you their handshake may actually change. Once they fully accept you, they can be a client for life.

Hand Wrestler - Your hand is taken normally and then twisted under the other person's. This is usually done aggressively. Be very careful in your own presentation as this person is absolutely committed to being on top, regardless of what they say they want.

Tea Cup - This handshake feels normal except that there is no palm-to-palm contact. The other person's palm is cupped, like a tea cup. This handshake indicates that the person is hiding something from you. It might just be a serious case of shyness or it could be something more substantial. Always check for missing information when working with this individual.
In any face-to-face situation, the more you know about the person you're dealing with, the better you can communicate with them.

Primed with the information presented here, you can start of creating a strong first impression by being aware of your own handshake, and learning the hidden messages in the other person's hands. Then making a good impression is truly in your hands.

 

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