The eighth level of handshake

My dentist’s receptionist called me today to ask “where are you?” She said “you are 5 minutes late” and then even explained “You aren’t here”, really! So when I got there 1 minute later with a huge grin like a child who knew he was in trouble but also content that the great sin was worth the pleasure. I said “So, headmistress of Hogwarts (Harry Potter) do I get to go straight through or am I just late for my waiting period? She took it in stride, laughed and ushered me through and then the inner room wait began. 

 So after an imperfect beginning to my visit, my playboy dentist who looks like he is 60 going on 30 walked in and shook my hand and I almost verbalized my displeasure – Aaaagh! He just did it; palm angled down in that classic dominating position of a jerk boss to his worker. “Big deal” you may say. Yes “big deal, you see I am a body language trainer and I coach my clients to be in a position to fend off these kinds of subtle power plays and here I was caught off guard, laying down on the dentist chair unable to non-verbally respond as I would like to respond, and as I train my clients to respond.

Now, the truth is that my knee was perfectly positioned to deliver a swift kick to his kidney but maybe that would have been over doing it. So I did the best I could and just held on to his hand, wrestling it to a vertical position and then later, when we parted ways I was ready for “Playboy” and placed my other hand over his bullying hand. Yay - one point for the patient. 

All said though, this is a trainer’s special moment where we get to train from experience and so I am happy that this happened and the timing couldn’t be better because in my last article (How a powerful handshake will open doors for you) I explained my 7 tips for an engaging hand shake. In that article I promised to follow up with a tip on engaging in a handshake in such way that you will always be able to fend off a dominating handshake.       

 The eighth tip

This technique is intended to empower you to neutralize a power play and at the same time it contains a little bit of magic because it also engages with more warmth. 

Power play here refers to a palm-angled-down hand shake or the politician’s handshake (double).

Try this. Step forward with your left foot so that it is almost side by side with your partner’s feet and then shake with your right hand. You are now set up to counter with your left hand which is much closer to your partner, you can counter with either the politician’s handshake - embracing his right hand with your left or you can easily reach for his elbow. Both gestures can be a bit intimate in a different context but here you will send a clear non-verbal message that you are taking control and may even be condescending.

The magic – by stepping in with your left foot you close the distance between you and your partner; when this is done in combination with the previous tips it enhances the engagement but you won’t know this until you try it so what are you waiting for?

 By now I hope that you are asking “so what about when you are sitting or lying down as I was in that dentist chair, how can you counter from that position?” I had a similar question from a client who expressed his discomfort when he shook hands with someone who was walking behind him on a congested sidewalk. He asked me how he should have done it differently. I said “if you’re going to engage, do it from a position where you can do it well or don’t do it”, he objected with a frown – he didn’t need to say anything, it was obvious that for him it just wasn’t an option to not shake someone’s hand and so I added “then your only option is to create the circumstances that will lead to a great engagement.   

For him that meant turning around and indicating for his friend to move out of the way of the traffic so that he could properly engage.

For me in the dentist’s chair that meant that I should have been sitting, not laying down waiting for the dentist and then I could have stood up as he walked in. Standing up to greet someone has an added benefit; regardless of status, it shows tremendous respect and doesn’t minimize your standing at all as long as it’s done with confidence.



Recently I was asked 3 questions related to rule #1 - A firm grip, palm to palm will create an instant connection and non-verbally says "I have confidence and strength". See previous post (How a powerful handshake will open doors for you). 


1.      Should we shake a woman’s hand differently to a man?

Absolutely not but just be more conscious of not crushing. Women like a firm handshake every bit as much as a man and since men don’t like a wet fish nor a bone crusher handshake, I would use that as guidance. Since this is so subjective I recommend asking people after a handshake where it fell on the firmness spectrum. The worst that can happen is that it leads to a rapport building conversation starter.

2.      How can I avoid getting my fingers crushed by my rings?

The only way to avoid getting your fingers injured by your rings is to connect palm to palm.

3.      How can we insure that we don’t connect at the fingers?

Connecting palm to palm requires that your first contact is at the back of the hand at the thumb because as soon as contact is made your hand and your partner’s hand will close. I have asked for a redo on the rare occasion that a handshake doesn’t connect in the sweet spot and that has always produced some laughs.


Remember to keep it real and have fun. Please share your questions and comments in this post

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Posted on December 27, 2015 .