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<b>The Dreaded Dead Fish Handshake</b>

Slip sliming away. Slip sliming away. The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliming away.

My apologies to Paul Simon.

“When I’m interviewing for a sales position, if the candidate gives me the dead fish handshake, I eliminate him or her immediately.” This from a woman sales manager who attended our seminar in Santa Clara.

“That quickly?” I asked.

“Just like that,” she said snapping her fingers.

Before the candidate can say a word, he’s gone in the sales manager’s mind. Doesn’t matter about his résumé, education or successes. He’s outta’ here.

Too bad for both the sales manager and the candidate.

Doesn’t it bother you when someone gives you that dead fish? You just want to run your hands along your pants to make sure none of those slimy scales stuck. They say that your handshake is a reflection of your energy. The dead fish feels like it’s ready to be gutted.

Allan Pease, author of Signals (the best book about body language in business) and the foremost authority on handshakes said that people who have the dead fish handshake don’t even know it until you tell them. When you point it out to them they’re speechless, their jaw drops, and their face turns red. After shaking hands with thousands of our seminar attendees, I can fully support his findings.

As Pease points out, the dead fish handshake is the most misunderstood handshake there is. Most of us read it as the person is a wimp, weak, and not a decision-maker. No energy. Someone who can be bowled over.

But don’t be so quick to judge. If someone gives me the dead fish, the first thing I want to know is, “What do you do for a living? Or, what kinds of hobbies do you have?”

Chances are, they work with their hands for a living or use their hands in their hobbies. Doctors, dentists, and artists depend on their hands. Service technicians have soft handshakes. They’d prefer not to shake to begin with. If they do, they want to get their hand in there and out as quickly as possible so you won’t weld their fingers together and ruin their livelihood.

Doing a seminar in the nation’s capital, one of my attendees said he met golfing great Chi Chi Rodriguez. “He had the deadest fish handshake I’ve ever seen,” the attendee said. But look what he does for a living. His hands are his tools.

What’s the lesson? I told the sales manager not to be so quick to rule out sales candidates based solely upon the dead fish. Feel them out a little more. Ask what kinds of hobbies they have. If they use their hands for art or music. Told her she could be eliminating many qualified candidates simply because she misread the handshake.

Also, many people may have physical limitations. An attendee in Tucson said she had cerebral palsy and couldn’t give a firm handshake. A lady in our St. Louis seminar said she has severe arthritis and if someone squeezes her hand, it takes days to recover.

But the rule of thumb in business (because so many people misread the dead fish), is to give a good firm, web-to-web handshake if you can. Your job – your next sale – could depend on it.

© 2006 Jerry Hocutt, Hocutt & Associates, Inc. Download your FREE ebook, Creating Sales Opportunities – Five Proven Ways, and get a FREE 30-day trial of the D-I-Y Sales & Marketing Email Postcards™ at For many more sales & marketing tips, visit our blog at

About the Author: I’ve Been Compared to David Letterman. My mission: to help Salesknockers™ (the rare and seldom seen business person or salesperson who creates their own opportunities) succeed. I’ve trained over 150,000 people in business since 1992 through our nationally acclaimed Cold Calling for Cowards® seminars. (“He’s the Zen Master of Cold Calls” – Los Angeles Times.) I’ve been compared to David Letterman by the New Brunswick (NJ) Star-Ledger (“Lord of the Rings”). “Okay, so he’s not David Letterman.” (I didn’t say it was flattering. Just that I’ve been compared to him.)

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