Over the past week, US President Donald Trump has played host to a number of foreign politicians, receiving many with what is fast becoming his signature greeting. But what does his way of welcoming his guests say about him and how does your handshake compare?
Body language experts provided analyses as wide-ranging as opinions on the U.S. president.
Trump’s handshake is ‘genuine and hardy’
Beverly Hills Media Psychiatrist Dr Carole Lieberman described the president’s handshake as “genuine and hardy”.
She broke the action down into two movements: “First, he draws the person to him, signalling that he wants to be closer to them. Because of his size and strength, this gesture sometimes catches the person a little off-guard.”
“Secondly, he pats their hand, in a comforting gesture, to reassure them of his goodwill,” she continued.
Trump’s handshake is ‘unsettling’
Villanova University Communication Professor Susan Mackey-Kallis interpreted Trump’s handshake differently, also separating it out into two movements labelling them the “clasp and ‘yank’”.
She explains that the two movements “could signify a desire for reducing the interpersonal distance between the two individuals”, but that it could also “unsettle” those on the receiving end because it “violates the typical interpersonal space norm of one-and-a-half to two feet (0.5-0.6 m) by pulling the other individual into the ‘intimate’ space zone of approximately zero to one-and-a-half feet (0.6 m).”
What can a handshake tell us about a person?
Geoff Beattie, Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University, comments: “We know that people make judgements about us on the basis of our handshake.”
He believes that the following can be determined from locking hands:
-A firm, vigorous handshake points towards an extroverted character with low neuroticism.
-A limp handshake is more likely to be a sign of someone who is ‘more neurotic’.
-Placing your hand on top of the other person’s pointing down is a demonstration of dominance – this was the case when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe shook Trump’s hand, but the US president tried to make up for not having the upper hand by prolonging the handshake for 19 seconds – 16 seconds longer than average.
-“Touching behaviour”, whether a pat on the hand, back or shoulder signals an “asymmetrical power relationship” where one person is showing their higher status. Prof Beattie comments: “You cannot pat your boss on the back, but he can pat you on the back.” This relationship could be seen in Trump’s behaviour towards Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.
-Clasping someone’s fingers and not taking their whole hand in yours isn’t linked to confidence, although it might be a suggestion that you wish to have only “minimum contact” with that person.
The perfect handshake
Prof Beattie observes that Trump “breaks all the rules” in his manner of greeting world leaders, elaborating that he “is not empathetic enough to worry about the impact of his handshake on the other person”.
He says that there are 12 considerations in the quest for the perfect handshake, some may be difficult to control, such as the dryness, temperature and texture of the hand, but others like firmness vigour and duration can be.
According to Beattie, the ideal handshake is firm, involves around three shakes of the hand, should always be accompanied with a smile that spreads across the face, and eye contact.
Geoff Beattie’s most recent book ‘Rethinking Body Language’ is available from Routledge