Body Language 41 Strange Handshake

August 16, 2019

At first glance, the handshake in the picture looks fine. It is two men who appear to be meeting for the first time or at least agreeing on something of consequence.

I use this picture of body language in the classroom as just one example to analyze.

As I studied the picture, there were several areas where the whole thing seemed to be staged and phony. Can you spot the issues?

Here are five areas where I believe the signals being sent are at least mixed and at most actually negative.

Body Position

The man on the right is standing with his shoulders at ninety degrees from the shoulders of the man at the left. A good handshake occurs when the shoulders are parallel. It is called “square shoulders.”

With the man on the left turned, it is hard to tell if he is planning to flee or maybe he just got up out of his chair. Regardless, try to aim to be square shoulder to the other person for a good, equal handshake.

Incidentally, while not part of this particular picture, it is a good idea to always take a half step forward with your left foot as you extend your right hand for the hand shake.  This action provides some forward momentum that is a positive sign to the other person. Don’t stand flat footed or step backward while extending your hand.

Hand in Pocket

Bill Acheson, in his excellent program on “Advanced Body Language,” described that you can get a lot of information by noticing what the non-shaking hand is doing.

What you want to see is the left hand moving forward and upward in the direction of the other person. Having a hand in your pocket or behind your back is a negative sign that you are feeling cautious or have something to hide.

There is a famous picture of Obama and Romney after the 2012 election. Obama invited Romney to lunch at the White House as a way to patch up election wounds.  Standing in the oval office, they shook hands with remarkably the same body language as in the picture for this blog. Click here to see the picture.

Phony Smiles

Both parties have pasted-on smiles that do not look genuine. They are forced and come across as duplicitous. A genuine smile starts with the eyes and forms a kind of oval with the facial muscles. It is called a “Duchenne Smile.”

It is a good idea to show your teeth when you smile while shaking hands with another person. This aspect of facial expression goes back centuries to when having good teeth was a signal of good breeding or higher status.

Bolt Upright

The man on the left is rigidly upright and leaning slightly backward. He is leaning away from the other man. It is better to be leaning slightly toward the other person. The man on the right is leaning in, but he is turned so that the gesture loses impact.

The entire position of both men looks stiff and phony.

The Grip

In this case, the grip seems to be OK from what we can tell in a picture. It is a firm grip with poth parties contributing equally. One person is not trying to wrestle the dominant (palm down) configuration.

We cannot ascertain from the picture if the pressure being imposed by each man is the same. For an ideal handshake, it should be medium pressure with both people contributing the same level of intensity.

When one person tries to impress the other with a firmer grip, it becomes a contest rather than an expression of equality. The rule I like to use is, if the other person can feel the handshake after it is over, you have used too much pressure.

Use care, because you have no way of knowing the other person’s physical condition. I know this is true because I have a hand disorder that makes certain movements and heavy pressure quite painful. Lucky for me, the problem is in my left hand, so it does not affect me personally when shaking hands, but it does remind me that I cannot assume the other person’s physical condition.

While the picture looks OK for a handshake, a closer examination reveals many things that are not ideal. Learn how to shake hands well, and you will have a significant advantage in life.

Ignore the rules, and you will find yourself wondering why people have trouble trusting you early in your relationship.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Trust vs Risk

June 24, 2012

This summer, Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a cable. Exactly why he did that is lost on me, but that doesn’t matter. He seems to have a pretty high tolerance for risk. For each of us, it is a risky world. We each know one thing for certain: “life is terminal.” Nobody gets out alive.

Thinking about the various types of risk has occupied my mind for several years. For example, since I make my living helping groups understand how to build more trust, the relationship between trust and risk is important to me. Whenever you trust another person, it implies some risk. That is actually one way to define trust: setting aside the fear of being let down by another person. I find it helpful to embrace the occasional betrayal of trust as a trigger point to build even higher trust in the future. That requires some work, but it is well worth it.

Another aspect of risk is the inherent risk of avoiding an action out of fear. The risk is that we are shutting the door on a potential learning experience. We learn at least as much from our failures as we do from our successes, so by tolerating the risk enough to try things that may be scary, we can grow. It is only a matter of degree that we will choose whether to risk something.

For example, I may be walking across a country road and accepting the risk that a car might come along and hit me. That risk is pretty small since there is almost no traffic, and I would hear a car coming long before being struck. By contrast, I may be on foot crossing seven lanes of traffic going 70 mph. That would simply be foolhardy.

The smart thing to do is what our parents taught us. Try to avoid the risks in life, but recognize there is risk in taking (or even in avoiding) any action. We need to learn to take intelligent risks and make sure if things go wrong that we document what was learned by the experience.

Mitigating risk is not all that complex. We just need to identify potential problems and create plans to avoid disaster in the event they occur. Most of us do those things instinctively.

Here are seven tips for dealing with risk in business.

1. Recognize the element of risk in all activities and in trusting others.

2. Think through each potential action from a risk standpoint. What can go wrong?

3. Keep in mind the risk of being too conservative with actions: the risk of doing nothing may be the most costly risk.

4. Prioritize risks by Identifying the most likely scenarios.

5. Identify potential work-around plans for serious consequences.

6. Anticipate when things are starting to go wrong and intervene early.

7. Admit any mistakes, learn from them quickly, then move on.

If we approach risk from the opportunity perspective, we can use it as a growing experience rather than debilitating force in our lives.


The Synapse of Trust

December 26, 2010

Trust is the glue that holds any organization together. Trust can exist at all levels because it is fundamentally a kind of synapse between two people. In the body, the synapse enables life by transmitting electrical signals between nerve cells. A similar pattern exists within organizations, where trust facilitates quasi electrical interactions between people. Where the synapse does not happen, trust is thwarted, and fruitful interaction is blocked. This barren condition is common, and it results in people “playing games” with each other in an effort to gain political traction for their own agendas.

I visualize trust as existing in the “white spaces” between thoughts and activities. Trust enables the flow of ideas and concepts in an environment free of fear. That condition is vital to creativity in any group endeavor. One of my favorite sayings is that the absence of fear is the incubator of trust. Lack of fear is not the only condition for trust to grow, but I believe it is a necessary precursor.

The benefits of trust have been well documented by many authors and researchers. For example, Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust stresses that as trust increases costs go down and things move faster. Dennis and Michelle Reina’s book, Trust and Betrayal, shares research on the process of healing broken trust relationships. In my own books, I seek to highlight the nature of trust and how to achieve it every day.

My thesis is that the heart of building trust is making people feel safe enough to share uncomfortable thoughts without fear of retribution. This atmosphere is accomplished when leaders praise people for being honest and open, even when the message is difficult to hear. I call this technique, “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is one important way leaders build trust.

Warren Bennis is a true master of leadership and trust. He has written numerous insightful books on the importance of trust and how to help it grow. In, On Becoming a Leader, Bennis wrote, “It became clear that the ability to inspire trust, not charisma, is what enables leaders to recruit others to a cause.” In a recent article for Leadership Excellence Magazine, Bennis recalls the lesson given by Jim Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who, in 1982, boldly recalled $100 million of Tylenol because some tainted pills had been discovered. His candor by personally going on national television to announce the recall was unprecedented, and it is at least partly responsible for saving the entire brand equity.

Candor is not always a pleasant experience because the truth is sometimes repulsive to behold. Individual differences allow one person to think a situation is perfectly acceptable while another individual may see it as intolerable. Revealing the truth about an issue leaves one vulnerable to scorn if there is a disconnect with the perceptions of another. The ability to withstand differences of perspective and still maintain respect is what makes trust so precious. The synapse of real trust is enabled by honesty and candor. In the void between souls, these quasi electrical connections allow a strong bond of mutual care and support.

Raw candor is not always the best approach, as we must apply it with judgment, tact, and care. We all know situations where it is wise to avoid blurting out our unvarnished thoughts. Within an organization, our reactions to activities or situations begin as private thoughts. They are not malicious or offensive; they are simply our beliefs. The ability to share this information with leaders in a constructive dialog is important.

If we feel stifled out of fear of retribution, then our private information will remain hidden. The withheld information is lost to the organization, and we suffer frustration and loss of morale by feeling muted. Conversely, if we know it is safe to express our thoughts in a mature and helpful way and that leaders will listen, we feel more attachment to our work, and the organization benefits from our viewpoint. It is up to the leaders to enable this flow of information through the behavior of reinforcing candor. Further, it is essential that leaders hear and understand the input and be willing to consider it seriously through dialog and actions.

We must teach leaders the power of this fundamental law: without trust, little real progress is made in any society. Candor is the enabler of trust. Leaders need to embrace and reinforce candor as much as possible. This behavior is not easy, as it is much more comfortable to become defensive or aggressive when facing a contrary opinion. The best leaders make people glad when they bring up difficult discussions because it enables the synapse of trust to flow.


Life is a Mirror

March 10, 2010

We are all familiar with individuals at work, who constantly complain about the attitudes of other people. These depressing people can be a cancer in any organization, because they consistently lower the morale of other individuals. Of course, the irony is that these people are observing negativity in others, but really, it is just a reflection of their own negative thoughts and actions. They go around spreading gloom about others, when in fact, they are the perpetrators of the problem more than the other people.

I think it is fascinating to observe this phenomenon, and then ponder whether I am sometimes guilty of the same problem myself. When I get fed up with other people being negative, is it really just a reflection of something going on within me subconsciously? In other words, how can I determine if I am blameless? In fact, I am just as guilty as anyone else of observing negativity in others. It makes an interesting conundrum that appears to have no solution.

My challenge to you is to pause before observing negativity in other people long enough to ask yourself the question of whether it may be originating with you. That takes a lot of maturity, because it really is a lot easier to just complain about others.

We all know certain individuals who are world-class negative thinkers regardless of who they are with. I am not referring to the one-of-a-kind rotten apple in the barrel that everyone knows comes up on the negative side of things. Rather, I’m talking about a more generalized malaise where individuals observe most other people in a negative light.

It might be a healthy attitude when observing several people being negative to mentally say something like “I must be putting out a lot of negative energy today, because that’s what I observe coming at me from others. Let me test the validity of that by putting on a more cheerful demeanor and see if it has a positive impact on the current environment.” Who knows, you just might enjoy the benefit of seeing a lot more love and affection coming into your day.