Thursday, December 16, 2010

Leadership Secret # 17:
The Only Time for the Politicians' Double Hander

Politicians are well known for their "Double-Hander" handshakes, in which they will sandwich your right hand with both of their's.  The Double-hander is universally received as negative - interpreted as "inappropriately friendly" at best - and patronizing and condescending by most - yet many people, especially politicians continue to use it.  However there is one occasion to use the double-hander - it's one of two ways to counter an overly-dominant handshake.

Here, United States President, Barack Obama was briefly in the dominant handshake position in two ways - a moment before this photo was taken.  First, he is on the left side of the photo. This is considered dominant because his hand will be closer to the crowd (and cameras), much more visible and thus perceived to be "on top" even if it's in the neutral/vertical position.  Additionally, Mr. Obama has maneuvered his hand to be even more dominant by rotating his arm inwards (clockwise from Obama's point-of-view) & thus his hand is on top of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's hand. This is easy for a taller man to do - for his height affords greater leverage.  Mr. Singh is left with two ways to counter this double-dominant handshake - he has chosen the simplest - by "sandwiching" Mr. Obama's right hand between both of his.

Like a game on the playground though, Mr. Obama further counters Mr. Singh's sandwiching using the last counter-move remaining - to put his left hand on Prime Minister Singh's upper back/right shoulder region - which he does here. Although it would have been a bit more dominant if Obama's hand was on the top/front of Singh's shoulder - so that the audience could visualize his fingers/hands (and Singh would feel more patronized) - Obama nuances the narrow grey zone of not being "overly-alpha" and thus builds rapport.