The Handshake of Death

A handshake should be neither limp nor bone-crushing.  This is common knowledge.

But how should you handle a death-grip handshake that is clearly designed to intimidate?

I inadvertently stumbled across the answer when meeting with a customer who had used our bus services and was now not paying the bill.

The transportation manager had arranged the meeting.  I entered the room and they were both there.  The customer sprung to his feet as the manager introduced us.  I extended my hand for a polite handshake and he squeezed and crushed as though he was strangling the life out of a dangerous wild animal that was going for his jugular.

Something to know is that I have some annoying arthritis in my hands: nothing too worrisome, and a normal handshake rarely bothers me.  But the excruciating pain I experienced that day had me involuntarily doubled over.  Actual tears formed in my eyes.

For an instant I was gutted.  Women in business need to guard against anything that smacks of weakness.  And tears?  Never, never, never.

Then I realized: here was the answer to the bullsh*t handshake.  A handshake designed to intimidate actually only works if the recipient stoically pretends that it did not hurt.  The “crushee” will likely spend the next few minutes stewing in anger while their hand continues to throb.  That gives the “crusher” the advantage and they know it.  Not showing a reaction is probably the most common response, and I would have done that too, if I could have.

It turned out that by screaming “ow, ow, ow” and doubling over, I completely put that guy off his game.  I thoroughly embarrassed him and showed up his tactic as stupid and counter-productive.

From that moment on I had the upper hand.

If screaming and crying is not your style, the best response in this situation is probably to rub your hand for a couple of seconds and with a knowing sideways look say “That sure felt like overcompensation.”  Call him out on it.  Then immediately face him head on and lean in and say “Look, this is how this meeting will go.”

That’s your one-two counter-punch.

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