Avoiding the power handshake
August 17, 2006 1:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I avoid getting my hands and wrists injured by a power handshake?

I have a repetitive strain injury in my right wrist. Usually shaking hands is okay, but every once in a while someone will deliver a crushing handshake. And a few times in my life before my injury, someone tried to give me a "power handshake" that involved twisting my wrist around. This kind of thing was painful then but would actually be damaging now. Hopefully I'll never run into that sort of jerk again (although you never know).

First, how can I avoid or protect myself against these sorts of things without avoiding handshaking altogether?

Second, if I can't avoid them, how should I react after these incidents to calmly let the other person this is not okay?

Really, I wish we could all just bow instead.
posted by grouse to Human Relations (19 answers total)
Wear a wrist brace on that hand/wrist?
People will be much more careful with people they can visually tell are injured.
posted by j at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2006

Normally I hate it when someone misses and only grasps the fingers of my hand, but this might actually help you; offer your right hand but just far enough to where their hand closes on your fingers, while with your left hand reach forward and clasp the wrist/back of their hand in that gesture that indicates a warm or emphatic handshake. Basically wha you have done is put less of your body under their control, and at the same time you have greater ability to restrain and control them.

If it comes off awkwardly, that is when you can mention that you have a wrist injury and that you need to be careful shaking hands. That will not only sound entirely reasonable, but they'll be impressed that you bothered to shake hands at all, and it will make it seem like you really meant it.

And for godsake, if you go in for the shake and you can tell that someone is oblivious or over-energetic, feel free to retreat in mock fear, and then smile and say that they'd better be careful shaking hands with you, as you have an injury. Again, I can't imagine anyone being offended.

Practice on your friends.
posted by hermitosis at 1:21 PM on August 17, 2006

Personally I'd be inclined to skip the "telling them it's OK" part. It's a bad habit on the part of the shaker, a means of asserting dominance, and inappropriate in a lot of circumstances.

From Body Language by Allan Pease:
Dominant and Submissive Handshakes
Considering what has already been said about the impact of a command given in both the palm-up and palm-down positions, let us explore the relevance of these two palm positions in hand shaking.
Assume that you have just met someone for the first time and you greet each other with a customary handshake. One of three basic attitudes is transmitted through the handshake. These are dominance: ‘This person is trying to dominate me. I’d better be cautious’, submission: ‘I can dominate this person. He will do as I wish’, and equality: ‘I like this person. We will get on well together’.

These attitudes are transmitted unconsciously and, with practice and conscious application, the following hand shaking techniques can have an immediate effect on the outcome of a face-to-face encounter with another person. The information in this chapter represents one of the few documented studies of handshake control techniques.
Dominance is transmitted by turning your hand (dark shirt sleeve) so that your palm faces down in the handshake (Figure 20). Your palm need not be facing the floor directly, but should be facing downwards in relation to the other person’s palm and this tells him that you wish to take control in the encounter that follows. Studies of fifty-four successful senior management people have revealed that not only did forty-two initiate the handshake, but they also used dominant handshake control.

Just as the dog shows submission by rolling on its back and exposing its throat to the victor, so the human uses the palm-up gesture to show submission to others. The reverse of the dominant handshake is to offer your hand with your palm facing upwards (Figure 21). This is particularly effective when you want to give the other person control or allow him to feel that he is in command of the situation.

However, though the palm-up handshake can show a submissive attitude, there may be mitigating circumstances to consider. For example, a person who has arthritis in the hands will be forced to give you a limp handshake because of his condition and this makes it easy to turn his palm into, the submissive position. People who use their hands in their profession, such as surgeons, artists and musicians, may also give a limp handshake purely to protect their hands. The gestures that follow the handshake will give further clues for your assessment of that person – the submissive person will use submissive gestures and the dominant person will use more aggressive gestures.

When two dominant people shake hands, a symbolic struggle takes place as each person tries to turn the other’s palm into the submissive position. The result is a vice-like hand shake with both palms remaining in the vertical position as each person transmits a feeling of respect and rapport to the other (Figure 22). This vice-like vertical palm grip is the handshake that a father teaches his son when he shows him how to ‘shake hands like a man’.

When you receive a dominant handshake from another person, it is not only difficult to force his palm back over into the submissive position, but it becomes very obvious when you do it. There is a simple technique for disarming the dominant hand shaker that, in addition to giving you back the control, can enable you to intimidate the other person by invading his personal space. To perfect this disarmament technique you need to practise stepping forward with your left foot as you reach to shake hands (Figure 24). Next, bring your right leg forward, moving left in front of the person and into his personal space (Figure 25). Now bring your left leg across to your right leg to complete the manoeuvre, then shake the person’s hand. This tactic allows you to straighten the handshake position or to turn the other person’s hand into the submissive position. It also allows you to take control by invading the other person’s intimate zone.

Analyse your own approach to shaking hands to determine whether you step forward on your left or right foot when you extend your arm to shake hands. Most people are right-footed and are therefore at a great disadvantage when they receive a dominant handshake, asthey have little flexibility or room to move within the confines of the handshake and it allows the other person to take the control. Practise stepping into a handshake with your left foot and you will find that it is quite simple to neutralise a dominant handshake and take the control.
posted by lekvar at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2006 [5 favorites]

Could you try the two handed grasp so as to brace the other person's hand a bit?
posted by Sara Anne at 1:31 PM on August 17, 2006

Response by poster: Personally I'd be inclined to skip the "telling them it's OK" part. It's a bad habit on the part of the shaker, a means of asserting dominance, and inappropriate in a lot of circumstances.

Right, which is why I want them to know that this is not okay.
posted by grouse at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2006

Jeez, lekvar, I know you didn't write that crap but it's paralysis by overanalysis. Why not just kick them in the balls and say 'nice to meet you, motherfucker.'
posted by fixedgear at 1:39 PM on August 17, 2006 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: fandango_matt: Yeah, I did that when I was first injured since any kind of handshake was really bad. But it felt really awkward, and as soon as I was a little better, I stopped. It's only a problem with maybe 5% of people.
posted by grouse at 1:45 PM on August 17, 2006

He the form of martial arts (combat hapkido) I do, there a many HOSTILE HANDSHAKE techniques. Couldn't find any videos online or screen shots. But trust me they are very effective.
posted by bleucube at 1:47 PM on August 17, 2006

fiedgear, trust me, it's gone through my mind a few times. But when some fucker is trying to show me what a big man he is by twisting my arm up and around, well, let's say it's a pet peeve of mine. If my wrists were at all injured I'd make damned good and sure to express my displeasure.
posted by lekvar at 1:58 PM on August 17, 2006

Just after a big lug did that power handshake thing on me, squeezing my fingers just before our palms reached the mutual-lock position, I remembered one trick to avoid being crushed is to park your thumb inside, against your palm. Can't figure out how you'd do that unless you knew the squeeze was coming.

Thanks for describing an alternative, lekvar. Wish I could see the accompanying illustrations. Still seems like advance notice is necessary.
posted by Rash at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2006

Ironclad defense to having hand squeezed: shift the tip of your little finger inside the middle pad of your ring finger. This makes it almost impossible to grind the knuckles together. Hostile handshaker can squeeze all he or she wants. No pain.

On the subject of dominance moves, note how keeping your elbow close to your body forces the other person to bow slightly.
posted by Phred182 at 3:26 PM on August 17, 2006

I'd shake your hand, but I have a bit of a cold.

Some good tips here, e.g. shaking with your left hand upside-down and something about extending your index finger.
posted by trevyn at 3:31 PM on August 17, 2006

1) I've seen people extend their left upside-down.

2) You could also wear a brace just so people see that it's hurt (rather than for bracing.)

3) Some people who don't shake hands for religious reasons (like some Orthodox Jews encountering a member of the opposite sex) will cross their arms when introduced, nod, and smile. Pretty decent non-verbal communication, especially if you can do it before a hand is extended.

It seems like if you wince visibly, they either won't do it again or will prove themselves enough of a jerk that you won't mind telling them off.
posted by callmejay at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2006

I cup my hand a little when I shake. It prevents the hand getting squeezed. Works every time. If the other guy is a vigorous shaker though it does not steady the hand/arm.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:15 PM on August 17, 2006

I've actually laughed at people when they do the dominant hand-shake thing. Especially when they're much, much smaller than I am. Very amusing.
posted by empyrean at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2006

I'm one of the ham fisted folk you fear, grouse. I enjoy shaking hands with people who shake hands firmly, but they are few and far between, and so I do make a constant, conscious effort to go very easy on the 89% of humanity I meet who seem to want to shake hands only because it is expected of them. Basically, I let others take my hand, and apply as much pressure as they like, and match mine accordingly.

People who are put off by the size of my hand upon taking it often just timidly grasp my index and middle fingers, and maybe my ring finger, which is the universal children's way of doing a handshake with an adult, and gets the instinctive "no pressure, no shake" reaction from those of us with plus size appendages. If the fragile handed exert little or no pressure, and make no effort to actually shake, I get through the slightly unpleasant 5 seconds of the ritual without trying to injure or lead them at all, and am as glad as they to have done with it. Even gladder if their hands are cool, clammy, or greasy with perfumed hand lotion. Yech.

But a guy who offers me his strong right hand, and a good firm shake, gets a smile from me every time. And it is "Pleasure to meet you." in the old ceremonial exchange, while we shake. And we may hold hands, and enjoy one another's grasp for a full 30 seconds or more, as we exchange verbal greetings. And we may shake again upon parting, for the pleasure of it, which is something I never do with those averse to meeting hand shakes.
posted by paulsc at 6:14 PM on August 17, 2006

Extend your index finger down their wrist. They can squeeze all they want, and you won't feel a thing. I have no idea why this works, but it does - try it now!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:31 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am a big guy with big hands, but am also firmly in the "hard handshakes suck" camp.

When some fucker does a squeeze / palm down thing with me I just let me hand go limp. I stare him in the eyes, smile, and say something like "Wow, that's a real manly shake, what's the deal with that?" or "What's with the iron grip?" or "Are you trying to break my fucking hand, or what?"
posted by Meatbomb at 8:01 PM on August 17, 2006

Sneeze into your hand just as he's reaching to shake.

posted by five fresh fish at 12:15 AM on August 18, 2006

« Older Help my night elf look pretty   |   My boxers are in a bunch! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.