Trying to come across as an alpha with your grip may distract from more important things
The era of the Trumpian grip-and-grin may be over.
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe visited Donald Trump early in his presidency, their handshake quickly went viral thanks to Abe alternatively grimacing and rolling his eyes at Trump’s awkwardly forceful grip. “It’s very much in American culture to have a firm handshake to show that you’re a strong person,” says Patti Wood, author of “Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma.” “He’s making a bid for dominance with these unusual handshakes, to show he’s an Alpha.”
And world leaders were quick to catch on. Polish first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda temporarily snubbed Trump’s outreached hand for Melania Trump’s when the first couple was in Warsaw last week, while French president Emmanuel Macron has spoken of preparing for his grips with the president because “we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones”. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously put his left hand on the President’s shoulder when they met at the White House earlier this year to anchor himself for a strong handshake.
But that dominant handshake wasn’t on display when Trump met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit this past weekend. Indeed, the handshake was notable for how un-alpha it was, experts say: “He usually stands still and waits for others to approach him, but with Putin, he moves forward and extends his hand first,” says Wood. “There’s a slight bowing motion of Trump’s upper body, all of which shows a deference to Putin’s power.”
Chris Ulrich, a former policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore and founder of CU in the Moment, a body language and presentation firm, noted that “in some ways, Trump’s moderated a bit.” He may be doing that for a reason: “The first thing people are asking is about his handshakes rather than how the meeting went. It was undermining the [policy] message that he’s trying to convey.”
Even if you’re not a world leader, there may be a need for a 180 turnaround on your handshakes if you’re known as the person with a bone crusher grip. “Handshakes are symbolic ways to say we’re equals,” says Wood, adding that using them as a power play could lead to people disliking you or avoiding your handshake altogether. For her, the “right” handshake is an equitable meeting of palms, with each person’s hand pointing slightly downward and supporting the other, rather than making a tugging motion.
If you’re ever in a position where people actively avoid shaking your hand, the best way to recover is by putting yourself out there for potential rejection. For one, put your open palm out first, which gives the opposite party power to turn you down. “We see this a lot with salespeople” who need you to like them, says Ulrich.
Then “say ‘I’d like to shake your hand,” Wood says. “Handshakes are typically silent but if you make your request out loud and they don’t shake your hand, it makes them look bad. That makes it harder for someone to deny you.”
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