body language: handshake II

September 19, 2010

Last week, I blogged about hand position (vertical, palm down, palm up…) in handshakes. But there are also other factors that influence how a handshake is received by the other person.

Here are a few examples:

Outstretched arm:

Some people stretch out their arm horizontally, keeping a lot of distance while shaking hands. It might mean that the person wants to keep her emotional distance too or simply that he or she has a larger personal space.

The politician’s handshake:

In this double-handed handshake, the left hand wraps around the other person’s hand too. This is also called a “hand hug” or a politician’s handshake since some politicians use it to come across as warm, trustworthy, and sincere. It can have the reverse effect, though, if used on a person we just met since this is a more “intimate” kind of handshake.

The arm grasp:

The left hand is used to grasp the other person’s forearm, elbow, upper arm, or shoulder while shaking hands. The arm grasp is a sign of dominance since you can control the other person this way. The higher up the arm the left hand is placed, the more intimacy is conveyed. A touch to the upper arm is a bigger invasion of personal space than grasping the forearm, for example.

The various kinds of arm grasps are popular with politicians too, especially when they find themselves in the submissive position (the right side of a photo during a handshake).

Reagan - forearm grasp

Bush - elbow grasp

Clinton - upper arm grasp

Obama - shoulder grasp

Depending on the type of relationship the two people shaking hands have, the arm grasp can come across as either warm or domineering.

I’ll blog about a different type of greeting, a hug, next.



  1. How interesting. I can see by your photos the warmth or, conversely, intimidation that such a handshake might inspire depending on the relationship of the two individuals involved. Thank you for sharing your body language series with us.

    • Yes, it’s not a good idea to offer such a handshake to someone you just met 😉

  2. […] body language: handshake II September 2010 2 comments 4 […]

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