Justin Patton

Handshake Revolution: How to Establish Someone’s Baseline

Handshake Revolution: How to Establish Someone’s Baseline

Secret #1: When I shake your hand, I’m not doing it just to be polite.

Your handshake is leaking clues about you that you never realized. And unfortunately, most people don’t realize it because they haven’t been taught what to look for. So get ready…we’re about to start a handshake revolution!

The Importance of Establishing a Baseline

Have you ever watched Criminal Minds, Lie to Me, or CSI and been intrigued by the scenes where a suspect is interrogated? Generally, the investigator(s) starts by asking general questions. Why? Well, it’s not because they really care about your name, your family, or anything else. They are really just trying to establish a baseline of behavior – aka: your normal behavior.  


Once you get insight into someone’s baseline, or “normal” behavior in a specific situation, you can more readily perceive when they change their behavior and subsequently adapt how you approach them.  


It’s important to note that establishing a baseline is just one component of effectively reading body language. You should never “assume” a single change in behavior means anything but it should spark you to stop and pay attention to what else is going on with their non-verbal communication. Additionally, in the right situation, you can simply state the behavior you noticed and ask a question for clarity. Some possible questions might sound like this. . .


  • It seems like there might be some questions on this topic. What are you thinking?
  • It appears that you might be uncomfortable with this topic. Is this something we should address a different time?
  • I noticed you got more engaged, passionate on this particular topic. Which part sparked your interests?


How Long Does it Take to Establish a Baseline?

During a recent body language workshop I was asked, “How long does it take to establish a baseline?” And although I said it doesn’t have to take a long period of time, I wish I would have said, “Shake my hand and I’ll tell you” because people give off tons of tell-tell clues to their personality and behavior within just the first few minutes of interaction.

Though I think your ability to establish a baseline is more accurate the longer you have to observe someone, the fact is we don’t always have the luxury of time. For many of us, we walk into a room, shake hands, and begin a meeting.

Therefore, I am going to share a few secrets and provide you with 7 tells that I look for when I shake someone’s hands.  These tips help me create an initial baseline and they will help you, too.


The 7 Tells to look for in a Handshake: 


What to Notice Possible Meaning


Eyes During your opening conversation, take note of how much eye contact someone gives you. I tend to classify the amount of eye contact into three ranges: Nicole Kidman (..oh, you looked at me?), Meredith Vieira (obviously confident but not enough to make you blush), Gary Busey (creeper, stop staring at me). Define your own ranges and notice what range people fall into and where in the conversation they fall into a different category.   


Placement Notice the placement of the person’s hand during the handshake. Someone who comes in palms blazing with their hand in a vertical position tends to be perceived as more assertive, collaborative. Whereas, someone who stretches their hand out horizontally, ready to place it on top of yours, tends to be more dominant and is going to want to be in control.  And someone who stretches out their hand horizontally but places it under yours is usually perceived as more passive and well…should just be taught how to shake hands.   


Animation Take a mental note of how animated a person is with both their voice and gestures. If there is anything I have learned from Nene on Real Housewives of Atlanta it’s that if there is a change in her level of animation you better “CALL SECURITY!”   


Tilt/Nod In my experience, individuals that tend to tilt their head and nod during a conversation are perceived as more empathetic and better listeners. Research tells us that women generally do this more than men. This isn’t necessarily a bad/good thing but it tells me about the personality that I’m dealing with.   


Stance Try to take note of a person’s stance. Is the person being open and inviting or are they in more of a closed stance with arms crossed?    


Speech My whole life I have been told that I speak too quickly and I often joke and say, “you just listen too slowly!” Regardless, what I do know is you should identify patterns in the rate of someone’s speech. I’m not as concerned with how fast/slow they talk. I’m more intrigued by when they change their speed. What makes them speed up or slow down?   


Gestures One of the most important things to notice is if there are any common gestures/habits that the person tends to demonstrate. Look past the obvious! Notice their posture, is one shoulder higher than another, is one leg/foot always crossed over another, do they tend to look a certain direction more, etc.  All of this can help you develop a baseline and, more importantly, identify when they stray from that baseline.   


 My Challenge to You:

Okay, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s easy to constantly watch for all 7 tells when you shake hands with someone.  It takes practice, but I’ve found that just being aware of them can help you in your personal and professional life.


So my challenge to you is to pick 1 of the 7 tells to focus on next week. Look for it in every interaction you have and see what you start to notice. Once you feel comfortable identifying the first, consider adding another. Before long, you’ll never look at another handshake the same way. CONGRATULATIONS, you are then a member of the Handshake Revolution!


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Justin Patton