Donald Trump’s Handshakes: Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication on the world stage

There’s a lot of talk about Trump’s handshake with Prime Minister Abe at the White House over the weekend.  Many who don’t know about these kinds of things thought the long photo-op handshake was awkward, which I’m sure it felt that way for Abe.  But you have to understand dear reader that most of what Donald Trump is on purpose.  He is a master communicator and each verbal and non verbal communication method is something he is highly aware of.  So let me explain, and of course I don’t mean anything disrespectful to the Prime Minister—because the handshake wasn’t for the benefit of the two men, but for the cameras and the subconscious communication exhibited—which is to the favor of Japan—especially in the wake of the missile launch by North Korea just a few hours after.  There is an art to the handshake just like there is in most things and if you understand what is going on, you can read a situation based on the way people shake hands.

Notice that when Trump shakes Abe’s hand he pulls him into the president’s big body.  Then Trump often puts his other hand on top to fully embrace the hand of Abe as a sign of compassion, friendship—but more importantly, control.  It’s a kind of wrestling move that lets the person whose hand you are shaking know that you are in control—you decide where the hands end up, and when the hand is released dominating the other person the way an animal marks its territory. It’s an alpha male trait.  Notice in some of the clips shown here that other men do understand what Trump is doing and they try to take charge by pulling away before Trump lets go of their hand.  When we were kids we called it thumb wrestling where harmless children show their dominance over other boys by capturing their thumb under their own to exert control.  It’s usually a meaningless game to the outside world, but among young boys it does establish dominance.  Boys who are routinely captured by other boys tend to follow those who control them in the pecking order games of our civilization for their entire lives.  So for Trump, who is a master salesman and dealmaker, handshakes are a huge part of why he’s been successful, and will continue to be.  The political class of second-handers don’t understand these games of the private sector, so they will easily be beaten by Donald Trump—and that of course scares them.

It is also important to note that Trump doesn’t really like to shake hands—it’s something he forces himself to do.  So it comes out a bit contrived which actually helps the reason for his emphasis.  If the goal of the hand shake is to tell other males that he is the dominate person in the room, then all these contributing factors help him achieve that end, even if things get awkward.  Because long after the handshake the people who had their hands controlled by Trump think about how big he is, how strong he is, how enthusiastic he is, and they start thinking of caving on whatever issue is being debated because they reflect back to the childhoods when they were dominated by other alpha males and realize that it is futile to resist.

I am an extreme alpha male, so I purposely downplay my handshakes when they are with other alpha males.  When they hold your hand too long I usually let go and give them the wet fish hand shake taking control back toward me instead of feeding the power play with the other male by squeezing harder for longer.  My reason for doing that is to create doubt in their minds about how long I can wait out an issue and let them know that dealing with me has different rules than anybody they have ever met before—giving me the leverage of the conversation.  And to that point I’ve shaken the hand of Donald Trump before and it was of the kind involving a couple of quick test jabs to measure the strength of the other person, then a quick release after assessing the alpha maleness of the other person.  If he needed something from me like a photo-op, or a signature on a deal he would have held on longer and tried to pull me into him whereas I would have went wet fish and let go forcing him to realize how awkward holding my limp hand was denying him the benefit of domination.

Another frequent trick use to assert domination over another person is to put your hand on their shoulder or on their back shoulder-blade when walking behind them.  Such movements let other men know that they are being led about by a dominate male and it is a power move designed to take the mind of the recipient back to their childhoods when their parents walked them across the street, or in and out of countless dangers.  With men it can be insulting, but it does force them to recognize the other person as their superior.  With women, they tend to welcome it because biologically they are conditioned to accept such recessive actions from dominate men.  When dating it is customary to put the hand further down into the small of her back when going through a door, or when walking toward a reserved table for dinner—because it is a first step toward the mating ritual for the evening.  It opens her mind to your touch while forcing her to yield to your desires.  With a man, you would place the hand in the center of his back and nudge him along like you would a horse or a cow in the pasture—for the same effect—to assert control.

By the reaction of most of the media regarding the handshake with Abe the anxiety first was to make fun of it to cover what they subconsciously know about the situation.  But the cause of their hostility was the understanding that there was more going on and that Trump doesn’t give a lick about how it looks to the world, he only cares how it feels to the person he’s handshaking.  This dominance works for both men and women, once it is accepted that one person is the dominate figure the other will serve the needs of the dominate figure without question, and that is how Trump goes about making great deals, or satisfying a beautiful wife like Melania.  Most of the communication is raw biology, but what’s terrifying to Trump’s critics is that the president understands these things far better than they do, and they can see it, feel it, and humorize about it—but they don’t really understand it.  Because they are not alpha types themselves and therefore are always the ones controlled, and never the ones who control.

What I’ve spoken about here are basic sales techniques that most really good salesmen and women understand and use on a daily basis as fundamental communication techniques to their craft.  One of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had in my life was a telemarketing job I had years ago where you had to call people at dinner (before cell phones) and convince them to accept your credit card offer during their meal.  We had to use all kinds of key words to get them to stay on the phone with us and to sign them up within a five-minute conversation as their food cooled and their spouses angrily told them to hang up the phone in the background.  If you could learn to dominate the other person, you could get the sale most of the time—and I did.  I applied the same types of techniques at another sales job I had while selling cars where I learned all these handshake tricks from the best in the business including the famous pull the hand of your target into the side of your body and leaning into their ear to whisper something you want to them to think about later—like—“buy today and I’ll have your floor mats cleaned,” or ”I bet your wife will have sex with you more often if you buy the black car.”  Those types of things—these are the ways of living in the private sector and politicians don’t understand or the press that follows them.  The media doesn’t typically cover real estate agents, car salesman, or Wall Street tycoons, so they have no idea what Trump is doing—as he’s a master of all those techniques.  So all they know to do is make fun of him.  But with Abe and the world watching—like Putin, like North Korea, Iran and all the tyrants of the Southern Hemisphere—they see a powerful person who is in charge and they wonder if when they meet him they can do as well as Abe did.  Because half the battle of winning a fight is in winning in the mind of your opponent before they even meet you.  Then when they do, they are at your mercy.  That’s why Trump is Trump and everyone else wishes they were—deep down inside.

Rich Hoffman


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