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 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 and Customer Retention

August 6, 2015

It takes only a few seconds for customers to assess the level of trust between people in any business. If your business has low trust, you are probably losing valuable customers every day.

Since trust is something you cannot fake, it does little good to tell the service people to “just smile and act nicely.” Customers see through a phony show of esprit de corps and put-on friendliness.

Instead of teaching employees to be fawning and sweet with customers, focus on creating a culture of high trust throughout your organization.

Customers notice and appreciate a real culture where people are not playing games with each other. Here are a couple examples you will recognize because you have undoubtedly experienced them in some form.

There is a McDonalds Restaurant on the Thruway that I avoid, if at all possible. The reason is that every time I go in there, I am semi ignored as the employees bicker between themselves or with their managers.

I find myself waiting for service and listening as the employees have their backs to me and focus their attention on their own petty problems. There is no trust in that group, and I certainly do not appreciate the aggravation.

On the other extreme, there is a Greek Restaurant that I often patronize because I get a warm feeling of friendly service based on how the employees treat me and each other. The interpersonal trust is evident within a few seconds of walking in the door.

Customers are very sensitive to the environment of an establishment, and if the culture is one of low trust, the customers will learn to avoid that business, just as I avoid that McDonalds.

Sometimes people in organizations forget that they are also customers of other businesses. It is like they do not see the difference between serving others at one point and being served an hour later.

It is helpful to picture yourself on both sides of the counter.

You can gain significant insights by paying attention to how you react when you are the customer. If change is needed in your area, why not start making change today?

Exercise for you: Take notice today of the groups you see at work. Do they display a culture of high trust, or are they just trying to act nice? Perhaps they are being hostile to each other in front of valuable customers.

If there is a deficit of trust in your environment, chances are it is impacting revenue. Work to change the culture with urgency.

Going back to the McDonalds example, the cure is to get the leaders to understand the value of real trust between people.

Perhaps some leaders need to be replaced or retrained about how customers expect to be treated: not just with a phony smile and “Welcome to McDonalds” but with a culture that truly values the employees and puts customer service ahead of slogans.


The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to