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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 26-Oct-14


Sunday 26-October-14

Listen to the conscientiousness of the handshake (if you're a male interviewer)

Why do we shake hands with people when we greet? The tradition goes back a long way, as do other forms of greeting. The basic principle of the handshake is to use your dominant hand, which for most people is the right hand and offer it forward, showing that you do not have a weapon. When both people do this, the next step is to grasp the other person's hand. This creates human physical contact, which is a deep thing in connecting with others. The sensation goes back to our youngest days when we were in close physical contact with our mother and creates a warm feeling of one-ness with the other person. In other words it creates liking and trust, which are fundamental parts of a good relationship.

The handshake also tells you more about what is going on in the other person's mind. A 'bone-crusher' squeeze by them tells you that they seek to be dominant and care little for the pain they may cause you. On the other hand, a limp hand betrays someone who may be rather weak or timid. A longer handshake may indicate desire. Other factors in greetings include moisture, duration, what the other hand does and further elements of body language, such as how close you get and eye contact.

And now there is a new finding. In research, Frank Bernieri and Kristen Petty found another interesting factor. They first selected ten men and ten women, each with different Big Five personality profiles. These were then introduced to over 100 subjects who were subsequently asked to rank the men and women against the Big Five personality factors of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness. Unsurprisingly, they identified extraversion fairly well. What was less expected was that male subjects were also good at identifying conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is a good indicator of how hard people work, making this a useful extra tool for interviewers.

Why does this work only for men? The researchers guessed that it might be because handshakes are a bigger deal for men, and so they get greater practice. You seldom get powerful grips from women. Men, on the other hand are always competing with one another for who will be the alpha male, even in a brief conversation, and handshakes include signals about this. Women in business, they guessed (their subjects were students) might also have developed this skill.

Bernieri, F., and Petty, K. (2011). The influence of handshakes on first impression accuracy. Social Influence, 6, 2, 78-87

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