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Find the Hidden Message in Your Prospect's Handshake

By Dr. Gregory Stebbins

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 "I don't know why, but 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 we can use as sales professionals by looking a little more closely at the experience.

Top 10 Handshake Types and What They Reveal About Your Client or Prospect

  1. Sweaty Palms
    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.

  2. Dead Fish
    Indifferent handshakes that feel like the person has no bones in their hand often indicate a passive or reserved personality. 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.

  3. Brush Off
    This handshake type is 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 for them.

  4. 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. This 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 becoming submissive, however it will serve your purpose to be somewhat deferential to them.

  7. 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.

  8. Lobster Claw
    Like the claw of a lobster, the other person's thumb and fingers touch the palm of your hand. 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 become a client for life.

  9. 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.

  10. Teacup
    This handshake feels normal except that there is no palm-to-palm contact. The other person's palm is cupped, like a teacup. 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 sales situation, the more you know about your prospects and clients, the better you can communicate with them. Primed with the information presented here, you can start creating a strong first impression by being aware of your own handshake, and learning the hidden messages in your client or prospect's. Then making a good impression is truly in your hands.
Sales Psychology Expert, Dr. Gregory Stebbins has helped 20,000+ sales professionals read their opponents actions and improve their negotiation skills so they can close more sales. In his book 'People Savvy for Sales Professionals,' he unveils for the first time his simple but groundbreaking plan to turning customers into lifetime customers.
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