The Alpha Male Handshake, courtesy of Donald Trump, recently became the most infamous Power Moves.
“Alpha Male Handshake” refers to someone purposefully crushing your hand and / or yanking your arm.
This article deals on why it happens and how to counteract it in different social settings:
- What, why, who?
- Alpha Male Handshake at social gatherings
- The Alpha Male Handshake in the club
- The Alpha Male handshake in politics
- Matching = Winning
What, why, who?
The Alpha Male Handshake is one of the bluntest Power Moves out there: very basic and purely physical.
You will mostly see it from aggressive and socially uncalibrated individuals.
Aggressiveness can be a front for a weak ego in need of validation, and uncalibrated because the rule of thumb is that the most socially savvy a person is, the more subtle the moves become (just think: would a top class socialite like George Clooney do that?)
It’s more likely to happen when:
- You’re physically smaller and/or he feels physically stronger
- He feels socially powerful and/or “at home”
- There’s an audience and you make a good rug for his social climbing
- He “needs” to get territorial (you’re a threat to group dominance, connected to testosterone)
They see you as a threat but believe they can dominate you
And notice that being on the receiving end of an Alpha Male Handshake can often mean you’re a rather a cool cat. It’s because there’s nothing to gain in belittling individuals with zero social status.
But at the same time, the Alpha Male Handshaker doesn’t think you pose a major opposition or he’d think twice before alpha-ing you.
In either case, he wants to assert dominance over you. And if you let him, he will.
But I guess you’re not quite cool with that ;).
Ideally, you will see it coming in advance and prepare (see below), but let’s start with when you’re taken off guard.
It was 3 people including me in a semi-circle when the 4th guy, let’s call him Smug, joined.
Smug is buddy buddy with the organizer and a friend of the guy to my right. With brisk pace, sunglasses on albeit the sun was long gone, Smug barges in interrupting us all.
He was bigger and taller than all of us -albeit that’s no major feat when it comes to me :)- and introduces himself with a bone-crushing handshake.
He doesn’t catch my name and now comes the full Alpha Male Handshake: he yanks me in and tells me to repeat my name (what Allan Pease calls “socket wrencher” in The Definitive Book of Body Language).
I restate my name –a slight mistake from my side– as I dig in and try to pull him as well, but I’m not very successful.
The exuberantly happy atmosphere we had before he joined makes perfect ground for my counter-move, which comes as soon as we break the handshake.
The counterattack delivery
With perfectly erect and open posture (correlated to power) I look straight at what ought to be his eyes beyond the shades and say confidently and loudly:
You: “Hey man, I hope you don’t wanna take me home or something”
And I begin to laugh as a queue for everyone to join in, which they did (they’ll always do if you have a good standing in the group).
The joke at his expense is a socially shrewd way of saying: I didn’t like your move, you don’t get away with it, and I’m making it clear for you (and everyone else) to know.
Having the group laughing is important because:
- Everyone laughs at him and on your side, and
- Makes it difficult for him to retort in a serious tone without breaking mood
The joke worked exceptionally well as it also implied homosexuality on his part -and me spurning the advance-. Very powerful.
Indeed as we all laugh he replies meekly and deflated:
Him: “No I just wanted to hear your name”
Note: “just” is a defensive word, and “wanted to hear your name” is quite a friendly overture.
What a sudden change from the boisterous dickhead of just a few seconds earlier :).
you NEVER THREW
If you executed the move well, you’ve been a tremendous class act. Now be magnanimous in victory.
High quality people add value to their group and going on the offensive would not only make an unnecessary enemy, but also bring down everyone’s mood.
Treat him neutrally, and if he offers an olive branch later on, which is likely, go on and accept it.
All went well for our hero here.
But what if you can’t think of a witty retort on the fly?
#2: Call out the Power Move
If you can’t master a pungent retort, then get serious and call him out on his behavior.
It needs some confidence because you will, for a while, break mood and raise tension. Don’t pull punches though because he went physical, so you going strong on the verbal level is a must.
Speak slowly and calmly, very matter of factly and say something like:
You: “hey man, you just yanked my arm like you wanted to harm me or something, (I feel) that’s very aggressive and unfriendly”
If he apologizes and backtracks accept the apology and go back to neutral.
But you go on until he admits and repents, or else you let him walk all over you on the physical and verbal level.
Force the bully into light
Address his excuse briefly and push forward, like this:
You: hey man, you yanked my arm like you wanted to harm me or something, that’s very aggressive”
Him: “dude, are you serious, I didn’t hear your name (what’s wrong with you)”
You:”I know you didn’t hear my name, and it still felt very aggressive, did you really mean it like that or not”
Him: “I’m just joking man, it’s a party, we’re having fun”
You: “I know you’re joking and it’s really funny, but that was aggressive, did you mean it like that or not”
Note: By asking “did you, yes or not”, you help him save face and make it easy for him to say “no I didn’t mean it like that”.
At this point it’s possible people in the group will intervene. It’s a good thing but do NOT address them, you want his apologies, not a group talkshow.
Keep insisting a a couple of times until he backtracks.
Once he does, add: “cool man, glad to hear” and propose a quick toast so you end the interaction with a leading move.
And if he keeps denying?
This is the time to Meta-frame.
#3: Meta him
Meta-framing is a technique in which you explain, in lay terms, what’s happening on the harder to grasp socio-dynamics layer.
A full meta-frame in this scenario would be something like this:
“I’ll tell you what you just did. You came in guns blazing interrupting us all. What you were doing was trying to assert your social standing as the alpha male of the group in a very juvenile fashion. I’m not a fan of that behavior, but whatever. Where I do draw the line though is when you disrespect people, and you have just done that by yanking my arm.
I have given you the chance to apologize and start afresh on friendly terms but you keep hiding even though everyone here noticed your behavior. You don’t want to excuse yourself, bad on you, but don’t do that shit again with me.
Note: Refer to the group as if they all stand with you. You want them to mentally nod you as you depict an us VS him scenario.
Since it’s quite long and people’s attention span is short, a briefer version is preferable:
Look man, I don’t know if you were trying to show off as the alpha male or whatever rubbish, but what I do know for sure is that you yanked my arm like you wanted to rip it off. Everyone saw it and that’s extremely rude. And that’s a fact. And instead of apologizing you are hiding yourself. Whatever. But make sure you don’t do that shit again with me.
You deliver it sternly but unemiotionally. You want to look like you mean it and there’s no fucking around, but you can’t sound like he got under your skin.
If you deliver it even half properly, it’s very powerful.
And then drop the mic.
People will side with you
If he apologies, great. If he still doesn’t apologize, you brought his move into broad daylight and the group will be on your side (example where standing up to the bully made Noah the new group leader) because most people resent bullies and gratuitous aggression –parallels can be found in primates as well-.
Indeed science tells us people prefer value giving leaders to aggressive ones, and when you antagonize the bully you’re almost automatically the good leader.
You cannot easily speak in a club or loud environment, so prevention is even more important.
Your best prevention tools will be learning to read body language and becoming a man people won’t wanna tool.
That wasn’t certainly me years back in my first encounter with an Alpha Male Handshake.
I was trying to look all cool against the bar when a girl came over and brought me into her group -don’t you just love Eastern European girls, albeit we can’t exclude it was all a ploy to make his man jealous :)-.
#1 Body language & Prevention
Possibly exhausted trying to look cool, and my inebriated mind not helping, I missed the clear signs of an Alpha Male Handshake coming.
Ant it’s usually not difficult to spot. In my case the meathead was not that different from the picture below :).
When an Alpha Male Handshake is in the cards here’s a nice trick: don’t engage.
Don’t shake hands at all.
Just say “hey man” and put two fingers to your forehead.
Or “hey man, nice muscles” and pat him on the back.
And if you fall for it and don’t have power to match… Boy, that’s gonna stretch your learning curve now :).
#2: Let it be
So here we are, you fell for it. He crushed your hand. And yanked you. A few times. And he’s not letting go.
Unless you do something, you’re kissing goodbye to any shred of good status in this group.
This is the key word here, because If you don’t care about the group then you can just leave.
Shake your head with a look of contempt, exhale and gesture as if to say “how cheap”.
It won’t be easy rebuilding your self esteem from there, but it’s great training. Mentally, develop yourself to decouple self esteem from results.
And then let actions do the talking and go get better opportunities: the best revenge is massive success.
If you care about this group or you know most people around, then you gotta consider your reputation (5th Law of Power). It means you gotta consider evening the odds and getting physical.
I know, I know, you’re not that kind of person, he’s bigger, there are people.. I know there are many excuses (this cat had all of those and some more).
But here’s a video for something you can do. You can watch it but you won’t probably remember in the heat of the moment. But worry not, you don’t need perfect execution and you don’t even need to “win”. You simply need to send the message you won’t allow anyone to walk all over you without returning (some) fire.
Here are a few things you can do when facing the possibility of an Alpha Male Handshake:
- Get physically closer: you’re not gonna lose your balance
- Place one hand on his shoulder
- Grab his hand with both your hands
- Slip your hand fully into his hand and put more power than you normally would and
- Smile with strong unwavering eye contact
Here are some successful real life examples:
Alpha Male Handshake contest #1 Trudeau VS Trump
Trudeau’s hand on Trump’s shoulder achieves two purposes:
- Avoids being taken off balance by the yanking and
- Strikes preemptively entering Trump’s personal space.
Alpha Male Handshake contest #2 Rahmon VS Trump
Pure power in play: look how Tajikistan president played ball:
Alpha Male Handshake Contest #3 Macron VS Trump
Macron got burned on his first outing but learned the lesson: on round 2 he slips his hand fully inside Trump’s hand, powers his grip, holds longer than expected and adds strong eye contact to boot:
Read here the full details of Trump VS Macron.
Matching = Winning
When you neutralize a Power Move, YOU end up being on top.
It’s because the Power Mover chose to use shenanigans, not you. He tried and failed, you matched and succeeded.
It’s like Mohammad Ali famous whispering into his opponent ear:
That all you got George?
And, inherent to the power of matching and succeeding: who knows, maybe you had some left to spare in the tank.
You learned what an Alpha Male Handshake means, that you have to match or retaliate, and you learned some effective ways to do so.
A quick recap:
- Prevent it:
- Radiate “friendly confidence” in a way that people won’t wanna mess with you
- Read body language and when an Alpha Male Handshake is likely to come:
- match power, put a hand on their shoulder and close physical distance or
- don’t offer handshake
- If you get caught out:
- Do your best to match and one up him socially with a well placed joke at his expense or
- Call the move out in the open, make him apologize or state that’s the first and last time he dares
- If no verbal counter-move is possible, physically end the grip
Enjoy standing up for yourself 🙂