Communication Excellence Institute Interviewing Skills, Speaking Training, Effective Nonverbal Communication

About CEI
CEI Store
Contact Us
People Skills for Skilled People
<< back

A free E-zine from Communication Excellence Institute, dedicated to improving communication in the professional workplace.

If you’re out looking for a job, meeting a client, or just wanting to make a better first impression with anyone, you’re about to learn the “skinny” about what makes for a great handshake.

Get a Grip (but not too hard!):
The Anatomy of a Great Handshake
Vol. 6, No. 3

Of all the aspects of communication we inherit bad information about from our parents, relatives, and friends growing up, it’s how to give a proper handshake. We don’t shake hands with our parents. We may hug them, but we don’t shake hands. And even if we did, most of them wouldn’t know how to teach us anyway. The proof is in the following common poor handshakes:

The “Bone-Crusher”

This is the most dangerous of all the handshakes. If you’re on the receiving end, you feel like your hand is in a vise. It’s usually accompanied by a vigorous pumping action. Not only does it hurt people in our own culture, but it’s especially painful in cultures such as Hispanic, where handshakes are much lighter. It’s also excruciating to anyone with arthritis or another condition of the hand. This one is definitely to be avoided

The “Fingertip” Handshake

This is the handshake we get from childhood, when we obviously can’t grip someone’s hand very hard. Women get it from outdated social expectations, when they were expected to shake hands softly. Men can even get it from the “continental” practice of kissing a woman’s fingers as part of the handshaking ritual. No matter the source, it conveys weakness, uncertainty, and affectation.

The “Wet Fish”

Universally disliked, this one looks just like it sounds: a floppy sloppy, often damp, attempt at a grasp that leaves the other person only guessing how to return the gesture. Along with conveying the feelings of the “Fingertip,” this one adds a kind of smarminess and even disdain. You wouldn’t offer this handshake to your worst enemy!

Note: Speaking of dampness, some people have moister than normal hands. What to do, if this is you? Just discreetly carry a handkerchief and use it to dry your hands just before doing significant handshaking.

The “You Poor Thing”

Otherwise known as the “two-handed” handshake, this variety involves engaging one hand with the other person’s hand, then placing the other hand on top, creating a comforting enclosure. Common at funerals, this handshake is meant as solace for the bereaved. In any other setting, it means “I want something more than just a business relationship with you.” While there’s a good motive behind this handshake (being warmer, friendlier, and sympathetic), in business, avoid it at all costs.

The “I’m the boss, applesauce”

This one has the initiator grasp your hand then turn his or her hand over, pushing your hand underneath. This is a naked power gesture masquerading as friendliness. Another one to avoid.

The “I’m the boss, applesauce” has a variant frequent in politics, and is a favorite of our current President. A person starts to shake hands in the normal way, then grasps your lower or upper arm with his or her other hand. Just another way to assert control and dominance.

So much for the familiar poor handshakes. Now let’s look at the anatomy of a great, warm handshake.

Start by aiming the web between your thumb and forefinger toward the other person’s web


Then be sure to get the two webs contacting one another (sometimes we have to wiggle our hands a little to work our way into good contact).


Finally, gently press your bottom three fingers against the back of the other person’s hand.


This handshake has several advantages over the others.

  1. You get a good grip on the other person’s hand, sending messages of confidence and strength.
  2. You convey warmth with a “wrap-around” feel.
  3. You easily adjust to handshakes from cultures that don’t practice the typical American crusher handshake.
  4. You avoid making people uncomfortable who have arthritis or other medical conditions in their hands.
  5. You can shake more hands without getting tired. (Lyndon Johnson could have used this one. It was reported that his hands actually bled from shaking many hands in rapid succession.)

Try this handshake and you’ll be blown away by how well it works!

Yours in good communication,

Jan and Neal Palmer

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you’ve been following our issues of PSSP, you’ll know we’ve published a DVD of our classic presentation “BEYOND WORDS: Building Your Personal Credibility Through Nonverbal Communication.” In the spirit of this issue, we’re suggesting this as a great help for anyone you might know who’s now interviewing for a new position or a step up in their current organization.

This 1.5-hour seminar with PowerPoints was presented to a group of 60 CEOs of corporations in Southern California. We think you’ll like it, and it could be of great help for building rapport and better relationships.

For those of you who have seen this presentation before, we hope it offers you a great refresher. For those of you who have been waiting for our most popular speech to come out on DVD, here it is!

It’s available on our webstore at

Here’s our message on the back of the box:

Become more successful with clients, prospects, and colleagues!
Over 90% of your communication is nonverbal (positive or negative).
What messages are YOU sending?

What makes some people able to get their ideas enthusiastically accepted, while others are bypassed? Why are some people more believable than others? How do smart leaders gain people’s confidence? The answer harnessing the power of nonverbal communication! People in your business and professional life are far more influenced—positively or negatively—by how you communicate nonverbally than by the words you say. In this presentation, Dr. Janet Larsen Palmer and Dr. Neal Larsen Palmer, principals of Communication Excellence Institute and nationally known experts on nonverbal communication, share practical techniques you can use to stand, gesture, and reach out to others nonverbally for greater impact and persuasiveness. You’ll be excited to try out everything you learn in this highly interactive presentation.
The Palmers coach university presidents, lawyers, business leaders, expert witnesses, politicians, fund raisers, and motivational speakers to use their nonverbal communication to make the greatest persuasive impact.

If you’d like to order our DVD, please click this link to our web store:

You can either enter your credit card information directly into our secure site, or select “print and call” if you would prefer not to enter credit card information. Just call our office at 800-410-4CEI (4234). Our staff will be happy to take your order over the phone. The cost of our DVD is $29.95 plus tax and shipping & handling.


© 2003-2017 Communication Excellence Institute