Small Business

License article

What your handshake says about you

Are you the Dominator, the Dead Fish or the Knuckle Grinder? Hopefully you're none of these.

Ashleigh McInnes shakes a lot of hands. The Melbourne property PR consultant doesn't believe it can be avoided with her clients, who are mostly middle-aged men.

No matter how experienced you are, the corporate handshake is a minefield, she says.

“The dreaded handshake greeting is the bane of my existence. I've really grown to dislike it, simply because there are so many situations that you've got to shake hands these days. At the start of the meeting, in the middle of a meeting if someone new arrives, at the end of a meeting, it just goes on. I've literally walked into meetings with 20 people and have had to shake every single hand before we can sit down and get on with it.”

Her strategy is to always greet a person with a firm handshake, she says.

Although that doesn't always work out well, she admits.

“There's nothing worse than going in for a firm handshake and anticipating the same amount of firmness on the receiving end, only to be met with a tepid dishcloth, which I end up wringing with such force, as I'm unprepared for such little strength on the other end.”


Allan Pease is the world's best-known communication author and body language expert. He says that shaking hands is a relic of the caveman era, which originates from early arm wrestling games.

Certain handshake techniques can communicate dominance or submissiveness, and can affect the outcome of a meeting, he says.

But there are ways to make sure you aren't made to feel intimidated by the other person, Pease says.

“To create a positive first impression, keep your palm vertical and give the same pressure you receive.

“The stronger a person's handshake, the more likely it will be in the 'upper hand' in a greeting. By giving equal pressure and a vertical handshake, it will put others at ease and creative a positive environment to begin a face-to-face encounter,” Pease says.

Here are five terrible handshakes, to be avoided at all costs, as explained by Pease.

No matter how experienced you are, the corporate handshake is a minefield.

1.     The dominator

The dominant character will unconsciously take the upper hand. This dominance is felt by the other person, because their hand is forcibly moved so that their palm is facing up, beneath the other person's. This aggressive style handshake can be intimidating, and gives the receiver little chance to establish an equal relationship.

2.     The glove handshake

Known as the politician's handshake, the initiator tries to give the receiver the impression that he's trustworthy and honest by placing both hands on the other person's, but this has the reverse effect. Other versions of this include using the left hand to show extra warmth by grasping the wrist, elbow, arm, or shoulder of the receiver.

3.     The dead fish

This soft, placid handshake communicates a lack of confidence, as well as a lack of strength of personality. It's a popular style of handshake among both men and women. It can be an especially awful experience if the hand is cold or clammy.

4.     The knuckle grinder

There's nothing more off-putting than shaking hands with someone who nearly wrings your arm off as they try to make a point of enforcing their dominance. These knuckle-crushing handshakes usually make you wince due to sheer pain inflicted.

5.     The stiff-arm thrust or pull

Used to keep distance, or to pull the receiver into the initiator's personal space, this style of handshake can literally wobble you off-balance. This style of handshake can eventuate both accidentally by an enthusiastic character, and on purpose to put you off.