Eleven tips to stop your handshake miscommunications

First Handshake

First Handshake by MJ/TR on Flickr

I shake hands. I am a handshaker. It’s my favorite element of a greeting, and it’s a key element of how I communicate who I am and the nature of my relationship with someone to them.

That’s right, shaking hands is a form of communication. It’s an integral part of body language. And it falls within the purview of lexicology. So I’m writing about it. πŸ˜‰

I’ve gotten quite a few compliments on my firm handshake, mostly from guys with hands like a giant’s. I speculate they’re as tired as I am of diffident and wimpy handshakes and appreciate the grip of a guy who knows how to do it.

But even if you do have a strong grip and shake people’s hands with attention, you can be doing it wrong. And you can definitely be underusing this communication medium, neglecting to take advantage of its full potential.

So here we go. πŸ˜€

The first thing I’m going to talk about is the obvious fish grip. That’s where you don’t actually grasp the other person’s hand at all – you just kind of put your hand by their’s in a completely relaxed state. There are numerous reasons why this is a bad thing to do. The first is that you can actually get hurt if they have a strong grip and aren’t skilled enough in handshaking to save your hand. Don’t put the onus on them to avoid crushing your metacarpals. The second is that it communicates weakness and a diffidence about your relationship with the other person. You aren’t really interested in them and you’re only shaking their hand as a matter of course to be polite. Which is ironic because a fish grip is anything but polite.

(I’ve always wondered what two fish grippers do when they shake hands with each other… how do they hold on? Do they hook thumbs or something?)

The next mistake is the mash grip. This is a common error for guys who work out a lot and aren’t focusing on being courteous (either that or they just haven’t got a clue because they haven’t been taught). It is also the bane of the fish grip. A mash grip is when you grab someone’s hand and proceed to mash it into a pulverized mass of quivering nerves and bruised muscles. Yeah, you’re showing strength (and possibly benificence), but you’re also showing a lack of self-control and care for the other person. Avoid the mash grip like the plague.

Another handshaking fail is what I call the super shake. You grab the other person’s hand and pump it up and down exaggeratedly. The range of motion in a super shake varies, but I’ve experienced handshakes that moved my arm over a distance of a foot and a half in both directions. Not fun. And if this is coupled with a mash grip it spells chaos for your wrist. Besides the fact that the only thing you can do is go along for the ride. This communicates enthusiasm generally, but like the mash grip, it also communicates a lack of care for the other person. It’s almost embarrassing. What’s really weird is when someone combines this with a fish grip. It’s one of the most difficult handshakes to meet and deal with. You gotta hold on without hurting them while trying to anticipate their next movement so you can follow along. Crazy.

The last problem grip I’m going to mention is the freeze grip. Like the mash grip is the opposite extreme to the fish grip, this one is at the other end of the super shake. Let’s say you walk up to someone and grasp their hand in a friendly handshake, and you start to try and… you know, shake his hand. That’s what you do in a handshake, right? Not in this guy’s world. No, he grabs on and locks your paw in one set of coordinates in twelve dimensions. Don’t do this, people. A handshake is a handshake for a reason. It’s an action, not a state. This grip can communicate anything from a threat, to control, to fear, to insecurity, to all kinds of things. It all depends on the rest of your body language.

Okay, enough about the wrong grips, what about the right one?

The right grip is a strong grip. Here’s how you can tell if you are doing it right. Hold your hand out like you are shaking someone’s hand. Now act like you are shaking their hand, just without holding onto anything. Does your forearm tighten? Good, that’s not a fish grip then. Does your fist close? Bad, that means you’re doing a mash grip. Your hand should maintain it’s general form, while being strongly tense. It’s isometric, using your own grip muscles to oppose themselves instead of the other person’s hand. This way, if you are shaking an old lady’s hand, you can give them a firm, secure, friendly, committed handshake without endangering them. This is also the best defense against a mash grip. This is because it strengthens the structure of your hand so it won’t be crushed while still engaging with the other person – without challenging them to a crush match (not fun if the guy is twice your size and can smash raw apples with his bare hands). Your grip will still dynamically engage with them, giving a good amount of squeeze so you don’t give the impression of a robot, but it also won’t be trying to fold their palm into an accordion.

But the hand grip and motion is only a part of a handshake. What about the rest of your body language?

For example, eye contact – don’t look anywhere but in the other person’s eyes when you shake their hand. It’s rude to be looking at one person while shaking another person’s hand. If someone else walks up and you want to greet them, look over at them to acknowledge them, then look back at the person you are currently shaking hands with before disengaging and moving on. Don’t look down at your handshake while you are doing it: look them in the face. When you first come up to someone you want to greet with a handshake, look at their eyes, smile, look down as you put your hand out in order to make sure you make good contact without hurting them or missing, and look back up as you shake their hand, holding eye contact until after you let go of their hand.

And always smile. Period. Full stop. Even if it’s a little one while you’re crying. A smile is an integral part of a friendly handshake. Without a smile it almost feels like a threat. 0.0

Give your handshake personality and uniqueness, not just to you, but to your relationship with the other person. Each person I shake hands with has their own unique shake that I give them. With one person I lean forward a certain amount, give a certain kind of grin, grasp his hand just so, move it up so much, move it down and slightly forward so much more, smile more, nod a bit, and then disengage with a small bow. With another lady I always take a step forward with a certain smile, bow while extending my hand, grasp hers with a slightly supine grip (instead of holding my hand vertical, it’s almost sideways, as if I was going to kiss her hand), shake it down once while saying β€œMy lady,” and disengage with a grin and a step back. Sometimes I intensify it, especially if I haven’t seen them in a while. Sometimes I combine it with a friendly shoulder hug.

Always use their name. If it is appropriate to use their first name, do so. Make the effort to learn and remember people’s names and use them. It makes a huge difference, and gives life to an otherwise ordinary handshake and greeting.

Now, what about if you are a girl, or if you are shaking hands with a girl?

Same principles apply. Make sure you always match the enthusiasm and duration of your handshake to your relationship with the other person, though. You don’t want to convey the wrong thing by breaking off too late or too early. Be natural, and be friendly. Once you get familiar with handshakes and their nuances, and once you’ve got the hang of your personal style, you’ll be able to handle this intuitively.

And lastly… do it. Shake people’s hands! Don’t avoid it, just start doing it. That’s really the only way you’ll get used to it and get practice. Watch and listen to their feedback, either from their comments or their body language. Don’t go around asking people to test out your handshake (though that would be a fun adventure and a way to meet new people, haha), just be observant. Learn, grow, improve.

Become a communication master.

P.S. Write your tips, experiences, and questions in the comments!

Four Things that can Cripple your Communication Without you Knowing

Amygdala location in each hemisphere of the hu...

Image via Wikipedia

And communication makes or breaks everything you do. Everything.

So this might be a little bit important to you (and to everyone around you), maybe. I don’t know. You’ll have to decide that for yourself. πŸ˜‰

In case you missed my last blog post, there are four levels of communication that work like a gradient from Devastatingly Crippling to Explosively Empowering. Most people work in the first two levels almost exclusively, only breaking out into the higher forms by accident now and then — unless they have invested loads of time and thought and training into developing the skills necessary to deliberately avoid the toxic airs of the first two and live in the fresh, catalysing airs of the second two.

I want to teach you about those first two, at least right now. Why? Because you need to start somewhere; because the rest is too big for this article (it will be coming soon, though, don’t worry); and because they are the foundation for every improvement you can make in communication.

I can’t even aspire to the herculean attempt it would take to exhaustively elaborate the entire depth and breadth of even this vastly smaller scope, though. I am here merely to show you something – something simple, something small, something you can do right now. The whole art and science of communication will have to wait. πŸ˜‰

If you haven’t read my last blog post, go read it now, seriously. I am building on what I said in there, and although this post will help you even if you haven’t read the other one, it will make a whole lot more sense. So go read it. One… two… three… Go.

So here I go! …you may need to hold onto your hat.

The first two levels of communication are Pretense and Sincerity (last chance to read the other post!), as you should remember. πŸ˜‰ The last two are Accuracy and Authenticity. There is one, huge, fundamental difference between these two halves of the communication spectrum, and that difference is what I am going to spend all my time in this post talking about.

The difference is a little thing called bioreaction.

I am guessing you probably have never heard that word before this moment, at least in this context, which is fine ’cause this definition isn’t in the dictionaries yet. I didn’t make it up, the Communication Catalyst guys did. And it really does make a lot of sense.

Bioreaction is basically a biological system that has a single goal in mind: deal with threats fast.

That’s it. And that is really a super valuable system to have, especially if someone leaps out of nowhere at you and slashes at you with a knife. You need to respond fast. And the normal system the brain uses for making decisions is waaaaay to slow for what is needed. So what the brain has is a special spot devoted solely to this function: it is called the amygdala.

What this bit of your brain does is filter outside input for perceived threats, and as soon as it sees one, take command of the brain and choose one of four options for a rapid response. It is lightning fast at this (well probably faster than lightning, but you get the idea).

But here is the thing: it has only four options. Which makes sense… it can’t be spending time filtering through all the millions of possible reactions to pick just the right one. So it has four preprogrammed premises for action that it chooses from.

These premises for reaction to perceived threats are: Fight, Flee, Freeze, and Appease.

Simple, right? Perfectly simple. God is really good at designing these things. So basically what the amygdala does is takes a perceived threat and evaluates it based on these four options to figure out which would best deal with it.

For example: if a big huge guy leaps out of nowhere and slashes at you with a knife.

Appease is out – the guy is already committed to the attack, and no time to hand him a cookie.

Freeze is out – that knife would plow through you like butter.

Fight is out – taking on that giant would probably get you killed worse than before (if that is possible).

So obviously the best recourse is to flee the scene at rates exceeding human probability. It’s your best shot at living.

See how this works? Handy, isn’t it?

But notice how I have been saying perceived threats this whole time? There is a reason for that. See, the amygdala can’t actually know if something is a threat or not until after it has already passed. Which isn’t the right time to respond to it. So it has to guess based on your experience and filters whether or not something is a threat, and then act on that perception of reality.

The problem is when it is wrong. When it thinks something is a threat… and it really isn’t.

This happens all the time in communication. Why? Well because in communication you are opening up a part of yourself to the other person. It is a fundamental and inescapable fact of every relationship you have. That in and of itself can be perceived as a threat to some people (stage fright, anyone?). But if someone does something that happens to look even the slightest like an attack on you as a person, it doesn’t matter if it was intentional or accidental, real or fake, true or false – the amygdala will pick up on it and limit your whole brain to those four options: fight, flee, freeze, or appease.

None of which are going to help in the slightest to resolve the perceived conflict.

Conversations are a work of collaboration and sharing of mutual value, not a fight. And even if someone is attacking you, the four bioreactive responses aren’t going to make it better – they will almost inevitably make it worse!

Not good.

Those first two levels of communication, Pretense and Sincerity, are built on bioreactive responses. That is why they are so damaging to your effectiveness and to your friendships… and to your friends.

Pretense is where there is a direct conflict between what you think and what you are saying and doing. Generally this is characterized by things like lying, evading, and withholding information. These actions come directly from the motivations of fighting, fleeing, freezing, and appeasing. Most people who do these things aren’t being malicious at all (they might not even be conscious of it at all): they are merely defending themselves. Mistakenly, yes, but mistakes are common and easily forgivable.

So if someone is behaving with these towards you, first forgive them, and then choose to not respond in kind with a bioreactive response of your own!

Sincerity is pretty much the most common place for people to reside in. People think it is a good place. They justify it in tons of ways (often defensively, with bioreactions, haha). And honestly, I don’t blame them. Getting sincerity from someone is a huge blessing (it’s loads better than pretense), and expecting more borders on meanness (accuracy and authenticity are a ton of work to develop).

But it still isn’t the best, and it still cripples your success. Teams can function on sincerity, yes, and so can friendships. But they are walking on ice. Their boat is leaking. They are up a stream without a paddle. Okay I’ll stop. πŸ˜› πŸ˜€

Sincerity is an honest report accompanied by the conviction that what you believe to be true is true. Basically it is untested opinion pretending to be reality.

Just like the amygdala, isn’t it? It responds to perceptions as if they were real, and then acts on them without testing to see if it is right. Good for some situations – bad for communication. The idea of someone who is sincere is to be honest and defend their honest position.

The problem is that value isn’t being generated, and people get hurt and opportunities get lost forever. Why? Because opinions isolated from the experience and learning of others is crippled in its search for truth. You don’t want to be wrong, and so you don’t learn. And in the process of bioreactively defending your position, you trigger other people’s amygdalas, and you create an atmosphere of defensive animosity rather than one of collaborative friendship.

Not. Good.

So what do you do? Well the first step is to start noticing when your amygdala fires up, and then take your brain back over from it, so you can choose to learn rather than spit out a bioreaction. This takes a lot of practice, but it is completely worth it.

Basically you just need to ask a question that the amygdala can’t answer. Train yourself to notice the signals that a bioreactive decision is being made (for example: your jaw might clench, your eyes look at a certain corner of your eye, certain phrases go through your head, or you start to use one of the bioreactive responses), and then introduce a consideration beyond the amygdala’s scope.

Such as purpose. Or value. Ask yourself what your fundamental purpose is that you are there for, and then ask what would be the most valuable thing you can do in this situation towards that end. Ask yourself what purpose the other person is there for, and then look for a way to provide value to both his and your purposes.

That’s deep. That’s tough. That is transforming. It will explode your potential and the potential of everyone around you. Try it!

And yes, again, I wasn’t able to really go as deep as I would have liked to, but again, you get to ask questions. πŸ˜‰ So have at it. πŸ™‚

P.S. This post was originally posted (with some slight differences) on theΒ Holy Worlds Christian Fantasy Forum. I honestly believe that community is one of the best in the world. So check it out.Β :)

A Gift that Could Change Your Life

A speedometer using kilometres per hour. (km/h...

Image via Wikipedia


I have something to share with you, that has been on my heart and mind for a long time. After much prayer and preparation, I want to present some information to you, that will dramatically improve your life — way beyond what you can imagine. I am asking that you take it to heart and implement it into your actions and life. I don’t normally ask that of my readers… but this is exceptional: it is worth it.

I did not invent anything I say here. I have learned it from men and women who are experts in communication and relationships. What I have integrated into my life has changed it powerfully for the better, and played a large part in my successes. Some of what I say here is paraphrased, some quoted directly from a book called Communication Catalyst, by Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek. I wish I could make that book required reading for everyone I know, but I can only give it the highest recommendation.

Communication drives life, and if used properly, can exponentiate success in every area of your life.

True communication is a network of conversations, linking separate lives into a larger system.

A true conversation is a language cycle that causes perception, meaning, action, and learning. Think about that. If a conversation does not bring those into existence or furthers their progress, it has not fulfilled its purpose. That is its goal, and should be ours. Life is a vast world of conversations, and so this is vitally important to every one of us.

Any conversation can be measured, indicating how well it is working towards those goals. I will show you all a meter by which you can measure conversations.

Any conversation fits into one of four quadrants, measured as 0-25, 26-50, 51-75, and 76-100, like on a speedometer. It is, in fact, very much like a speedometer. The higher the number, the faster, the more efficiently, and the more effectively you are traveling towards your goals and bringing about value.

High numbers are good, just so you know. πŸ˜‰

So what are these four kinds of conversations?

We can call them with four names: Pretense, Sincerity, Accuracy, and Authenticity. Most people use the first two, and don’t even know about the existence of the last two. But those last two, accuracy and authenticity, are our goals: those are where we want to be.

Pretense is lying, evading, and withholding information.

Sincerity is honest, untested opinion masquerading as reality.

Accuracy separates observable facts from explanations of those facts (interpretations and opinions), and then compares the different possible explanations to find value.

Authenticity reveals previously hidden value at the intersection of someone else’s view and your own (not compromise: contribution).

Most people would want to think that they use accuracy, but in reality, most people are using sincerity at best. Some people even think that authenticity is either impossible or undesirable.

I can’t go super in-depth into these kinds of conversations in this article (’tis long enough), but if you want to learn more, just hang around… I’ll be doing a series of posts digging in deeper and elucidating the art and science of effective communication.

What I do want to focus on in this post, though, is a contrast between sincerity and authenticity.

While sincerity does its absolute best to present its best ideas and help to a community, it does not work with other people to find out where its purposes and ideas intersect with theirs. If you do this, seeking to find common ground and building off of that, new ideas arise that are better than what either of you can come up with on your own. Trust me on that. Haha. It does not require compromise — it does not require giving up anything: it just requires you to think outside yourself.

If you can realize that other people have a different perspective than you, value that other perspective, and seek to find out how you can benefit them and yourself at once in the same act, then you have gained a level of maturity rarely achieved by anyone in this world.

I have seen this kind of maturity in my friends. I have seen people working together, seeking to learn, and contributing to work in synergy, and it inspires me. It is a powerful blessing. That is why I am talking about this, to help us improve, and move on to the next level. I know that you can learn from this, and benefit from it.

I don’t believe any of us have reached the full potential that God has for us in this area. We can do better, and I want to encourage you to put in that extra effort to excel even more. I would like to impart to you some of the huge blessings that God has taught me.

I believe you can take it and use it to great advantage.

P.S. A quick tip before I sign off: the most valuable form of a sentence is a Question. Handled skilfully, it can discharge the duties normally assigned to the other kinds of sentences with greater effectiveness than they could ever aspire to. So ask questions! You can practice in the comments section below. πŸ˜‰

P.P.S. This post was originally posted (with some slight differences) on the Holy Worlds Christian Fantasy Forum. I honestly believe that community is one of the best in the world. So check it out. πŸ™‚

What Do I Do??


I have a problem.

I consider it to be a big problem. Others might not, but I do.

I can’t talk to teenagers.

That’s it.

β€œBut wait!” you say, β€œI am a teenager, and you talk to me all the time!”

Well, yes, that is true. But you are on the internet. πŸ˜›

Perhaps I should say ‘connect’ instead. I want to add value to those I talk to, and I want to connect with their value: I want to learn what they have learned. I have a purpose in my conversations.

Perhaps that is why when I walk up to a group of talking teenagers (even at my church), they stop talking and wander off.

Or maybe it is the beard. Whatever.

When I corner them and ask them what they are interested in, they clam up: they go dry. If I ask a group of them what they were talking about, they don’t know. If I ask them what they would like to talk about… They. Have. No. Clue.

It is embarassing walking up to them, because I can’t get the purpose out of my stride, and I scare them.

I can talk to the adults with ease. On the internet and off.

I can talk to rebelutionaries. Easily.


But I can’t talk to my own kind… or are they my kind?

They react to me like I am an adult, and they don’t connect with me.

Maybe because I interact with adults on their level. Maybe my best friends and buddies (in face-to-face communication) are 3-4 times my age.

Maybe it is because I actually have a purpose in life, interests, and dreams. Maybe?

But whatever the reason why, I want to connect with them. I have a passion to reach out to them. I want to touch their lives. I want to share what I have learned with them. I want to learn from them.

That is why I care.

But I don’t know how.

I am sure at least some of you, my dear readers, you who know how to think, have this same problem. I know some of you have the opposite problem: you can’t break into the ring of adults.

But how do you break into the ring of teens?

None of our family has been able to, not even enough to reveal our consummate weirdness. So that isn’t what is scaring them off.

So I am asking you, my treasured online friends: How can we connect with our age group? How do you who are adults reach us?

Thank you.