Deadfish or Dominator? What Your Handshake Says About You

Everyone has experienced a bad handshake, and for some reason the encounter tends to stick with us.  Whether too forceful or too feeble, a lousy handshake can leave us with unfavorable feelings toward the deliverer. Reactions vary from “yuck”, “eeewww” or even “creepy”, and improper execution ranges from a bone-crushing grip to a dainty fingertip touch. A simple handshake can improve the quality of an interaction, or stop it in its tracks.

Dead Fish Handshake

Despite its apparent simplicity, handshakes can go very wrong.  Let’s take a look at some handshakes to avoid at all costs:The Dead Fish: This is death knell of all handshakes. Lifeless, lackluster and lame, it suggests timidity and a lack of confidence. To dodge this disaster, make sure your hand comes in full contact with your partner’s and gently but firmly wrap their hand completely with your fingers.The Bone Breaker: Whether deliberately aggressive or a misconception of personal strength, this handshake leaves the most lasting impression. Unfortunately, that impression is often tenderness and bruising. While firmness and confidence is the goal, going too far can evoke images of Popeye’s forearm after downing a can of spinach.The Dominator: Around the time we were introduced to the unscrupulous Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street”, someone suggested that extending your hand palm down and over the top of your partner’s established dominance. Wrong. The only thing established here is a lack of self-esteem and desperate one-upmanship.  Both hands should be offered in a perpendicular position only, not palm down nor up.The Grandstander: Unless you are greeting your grandmother or long-lost son, under no circumstances should you use two hands to cover the other person’s hands. It is too personal, too close for comfort and too cheesy. In a handshake, less is definitely more, so stick to the single hand method at all times.The Clammy Clamp: Forced, prolonged contact with a hand dripping in perspiration can make even the most unflappable professional falter.But it happens all too often, since 3% of the population suffers from hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating.  If you are in that number, the key is to be prepared by keeping a handkerchief in your pocket, or subtlety swiping the back of your pant leg before making contact.


The handshake has been in use for thousands of years, in western and non-western cultures alike and theories abound on how and why it began. One explanation is that by extending an empty right hand free from weaponry, one could indicate their peaceful intentions and demonstrate there was no ill will. The up-and-down pumping motion of the handshake is believed to have been a way to force out any knives or daggers concealed up a sleeve.Our current culture recognizes a firm, confident handshake as the accepted form of both greeting and goodbye. We use it to convey everything from congratulations to the close of a business deal.  Loyalty, friendship, good sportsmanship and trust can all be expressed through a properly executed handshake.  By keeping in mind a few simple points, you can avoid the pitfalls of poorly executed handshake:

  • Make firm yet moderate contact with the other person’s hand.
  • Recognize that you are equals, and never try to establish dominance.
  • Keep it simple and professional by using only one hand.
  • Be prepared for sweaty palms in moments of stress or if it’s an ongoing issue.
  • Consider the circumstance and make your partner comfortable and at ease.
  • Most of all, if your handshaking partner commits one of the cardinal sins above, be kind and courteous and learn from their mistake.

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