13 Revealing Body Language Hand Gestures

When you communicate, your brain automatically involves your hands to convey thoughts and emotions, without you even knowing it. In that way, your hand body language signals what you don’t say with your words. Being able to properly read body language is a key to ANY successful relationship.

Here are 13 of the most common hand body language gestures (with pictures) you’ll see every day:

1. Touch

hand in handHow you touch another person reveals how you feel toward them. When you make full contact with your palm, this communicates warmth, familiarity and fondness. Touching with only your fingertips means less fondness, maybe even some discomfort.

When a person touches you and you notice that his hands are warm, this tells you he is more or less at ease. Cold, clammy hands mean he is tense – not necessarily because of you, but possibly because of the circumstances.

2. Palms up

hand palm upOpen palms usually have a positive effect on people. It’s effective in making amends or closing a sale.

Combined with outstretched arms, it communicates acceptance, openness and trustworthiness.

When done with a jerk of the shoulders, it can mean resignation or admitting weakness, as if to say, “I have no idea”.

3. Palms down

hands palm downThis means confidence and shows that you know what you’re talking about – but it also conveys rigidity.

Downward palms with straightened fingers indicate a sense of authority, even dominance or defiance. When a person does this while talking to you, it means he is not going to budge and you might have to change your approach.

When combined with a chopping action, a downward palm indicates emphatic disagreement.

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4. Hands behind the back

Hands behind the back This is usually shows some amount of confidence, as the front torso and vital parts are exposed. You will often see this in men, and while it is always better to show hands, this is perhaps the exception to the rule as far as hand confidence displays go.

For many people, this hand position makes them feel totally uncomfortable when they are being looked at. They feel naked.

5. Clenched fists

Clenched fists usually connote firmness of resolve – think of someone preparing himself for a football game or a fistfight. It can signify unyieldingness, like a more intense version of palms facing down.

Clenched fists with thumbs tucked-in indicate discomfort. This person is anxious and trying to harden himself.

6. Hands on heart

hand on heartThis conveys a person’s desire to be believed or accepted. Though intended to communicate sincerity, it doesn’t necessarily mean honesty. It just means, “I want you to believe me (whether or not what I say is true”. I means, “What I say comes from the heart”.

7. Chopping movements

hand karate chopChopping is for emphasis, and is usually authoritative. A person who “chops” has made up his mind and is not likely to change it.

It can often be used as a way to make a point. For example, chopping down as to separate an idea in two categories. If you use this gesture, just don’t be too aggressive when you do it.

8. Finger Pointing

finger pointingPointing a finger at a person while speaking is an authoritative gesture. People do this when imposing themselves: parents do it to their children, teachers to unruly students. It’s a way of talking down, usually interpreted as aggressive and angry. When done to a peer, it’s a show of arrogance – it’s confrontational, invasive and offensive. A fiercer variation is jabbing your finger.

In any case, it’s often considered impolite to point at a person. It would be more refined to point with your whole hand.

A playful finger-point with a wink however, is a pleasant expression of approval or acknowledgement.

Pointing a finger in the air adds emphasis to your words. It convinces people of your confidence and authority. You may notice how politicians or preachers use this as they speak.

9. Rubbing hands together

hand in anticipationHand-rubbing indicates anticipation or relishing something to come. Always remember that self-rubbing gestures used to dissipate stress – and being overly excited in anticipation of something to come is a form of positive stress.

Another form of this is cracking knuckles – it expresses readiness for action, more often associated with men.

10. Clasping hands, squeezing hands

hand wringingClasping and squeezing hands together is a self-pacifying gesture. A person who does this is uncomfortable, maybe even nervous or fearful. He’s trying to assure himself, “Everything’s going to be alright.” A variation of this is rubbing the wrist.

Clasped hands with interwoven fingers indicate great anxiety and frustration. That person is thinking, “Things are going really bad”. You better prepare yourself when you spot this.

11. Steepling

hand steepleSteepling is what you call palms that face each other with just the fingertips touching (the fingers resemble a steeple). This is a display of confidence and self-assurance. You would see this in a lawyer or chess player who just found a way to wipe out his opponent.

You don’t want to over do it however, as this is a real show of power.

12. Hands on hips Akimbo

Arms on hips Akimbo This is sometimes mistaken for unfriendliness, but it’s often really just a position of readiness. This is often observed in workaholics, athletes and productive people.

Certainly sometimes this display can be a show of authority and superiority. For example, this is a gesture used by the military and law officials to show assertiveness and take control of a situation.

13. Hands in pockets

Hand in pocketsPocketed hands indicate unwillingness, mistrust and reluctance. If a person keeps his hands in his pockets, you will need to first gain his interest as well as his trust.

Even if someone tries to hide what he’s really thinking, his hand signals can tell you the truth. If you are sensitive to the language of his hands, you can make an appropriate course of action and even get a good response.

Now, pay attention to your own hands too. Consciously use gestures that will get your message across, especially those that will help you build alliances and influence people.

QUESTION: Did I miss a hand body language pattern? Let me know in the comments and I’ll tell you what it means!

   
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2018-06-01T21:40:56+00:00

148 Comments

  1. Kaypadden May 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Very interesting Nic.

  2. Sunildil05 November 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Very Good and Thanks a lot.

  3. […] to mention, body language says it all.  The only hand gestures he used throughout his speech were choppy, indicating authority.   When he made eye contact, he was frowning, with the right side of his face angled down.  No […]

  4. Mr. Me October 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Most of these interpretations make sense. I have to admit I am surprised that you are a professional in deception. I’ve always had negative perceptions of deception, but i realize it could be a valuable skill.

  5. Frustrated reader January 4, 2014 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Your website is extraordinarily difficult to read on my iPad. The stupid, annoying Facebook, twitter floating menu bar covers everything you presented me to read.

    • Nicolas Fradet May 20, 2015 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      Apologies for this, I’ll try to get that fixed!

      • Mohamed Hassan June 19, 2016 at 8:57 pm - Reply

        Hello, I don’t know if u forgot or even someone mentioned it here before me but what the both arms folded on or below the chest

      • makis August 13, 2016 at 11:18 pm - Reply

        Hi Nicolas! Loved the article. I would like to know what to do when someone instead of saying thank you, put their hands together as in prayer and make a little reverence. I don’t know if I should say: “you are more than welcome”, or play back the same gesture. MJ

        • Kara January 29, 2017 at 10:15 pm - Reply

          The bow itself has a lot of different interpretations. If you don’t know what you’re doing with the bow, just show gratitude the way YOU know to show it. They’re doing it their way and will respect you doing it your way.

      • Tootsie July 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm - Reply

        I have the same problem on my android tablet..

      • IB November 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm - Reply

        I saw a picture where the person had an open hand straight down, fingers straight, pointed down on the one side next to a male. On the other side the arm was straight down and the fingers were pointing in towards the his own thigh, standing next to a female. Two different hand gestures for the two different people while posing for a picture where he was getting an award. Any clues as to whether this is significant.

  6. Colomba August 21, 2014 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Sorry, I do not agree on the “Steepling” hands.
    For me it is exactly the opposite of self confidence. On the contrary it means that the speaker does not master the subject he/ she is talking about because of a lack of knowledge on that subject. It is the sign of a deep insecurity, not of confidence! Many politicians use it.

    • Nicolas Fradet November 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Colomba,

      The reason meany politicians use it it exactly because it send a strong image and they’ve been coached to do it! Note that does not mean they know their subject! 🙂

    • Derek August 3, 2017 at 1:46 am - Reply

      I do agree with you in this Colomba. However, people nowadays use to send a message of false confidence. Many people use this technique to inject into the audience that they are confident, sure, or secure of what they talking about, but they are not, they simply know that deceiving gesture to convince the people that for sure they know what they are talking about…
      Getting advantage of this is to send that message to people that ” know” this (For “they know” that you are indeed confidence, but you are not) and they will fall into that trap. And because they “trust you”, get the sale.
      People use it againt people that know, and dont of this techniques to sell things, or people in the case of politicans.
      … So yeah, is to get advantage of the people, it really means: How to proyect a false confidence to people.

  7. Colomba August 21, 2014 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    And the Hands on Hip is mainly people trying to appear ” bigger” larger” than they are; showing a size they don’t have… Has nothing to do with authority or power. A fake…

    • Karen June 29, 2016 at 10:53 pm - Reply

      This “Hands on Hip” is a classic model pose that many women utilize to make themselves appear more slender. The broader shoulder/elbow wings create the allusion of a smaller waist.

  8. Mr Kofy March 11, 2015 at 4:31 am - Reply

    Learned a lot here. Makes so much sense!

  9. alejodelatorre@hotmail.com.ar May 18, 2015 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicolas. Meaning of
    Hands holding crossed legs of a seated person.?
    🙂 jaja
    ALEJO

    • Nicolas Fradet May 20, 2015 at 8:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Alejo,

      Anytime a person crosses parts (legs, arms) and holds on to themselves, it usually signifies some sort of anxiety and discomfort.

      Cheers,

      Nicolas

  10. Yvonne May 27, 2015 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    I saw someones hands folded with the two thumbs and pinkies touching. Similar to Steepling but all fingers crossed except the thumb and pinky.

    thanx.

    • Linda...~*~... November 24, 2016 at 6:17 am - Reply

      I do that, especially at the dentist, over my navel while lying back. To me it is protective/guarded but still going with the flow. Suspicious or distrusting but willing to give things a chance. Closed off, but still open until a conclusion/decision is made.

  11. Coralie June 8, 2015 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Hi.my name is Coralie I’m in a relationship and my partner shows a lot off body languages that I have picked up like hiding his hands when he sits down and rubbing his feet up and down and putting his hands in his pockets and folding his arms I just wanna know what does that mean.

    • Nicolas Fradet June 9, 2015 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      Hi Coralie,

      Without proper context, it’s really hard to say.

      These gestures could mean he’s totally relaxed just like they could mean he’s closing himself off and is nervous.

      Nicolas

  12. Darlene Roberts June 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Prison worker (now a prisoner herself for helping two murderers escape in NY) can be seen onlinebin shackles that keep her hands apart, and shebis walking with guards and both of her hands are clinging to the material of her black and white striped prison pants. What does this signify?

  13. Randall E. Howard June 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your insightfulness.
    Most of the gesture meanings; I was totally unaware of.

    Q: Why does an orator/speaker (during 85% of his presentation); maintain his left hand in his left-hand pant pocket?

    Q: Does it matter if one hand is in the pocket VS: two hands in their respective pant-pockets?

    Thank you in advance for your response.

    Cordially,
    Randall Eisenhoffer Howard

    • Alexis August 1, 2017 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Hey, Randall!

      A1: The business classes I’ve taken have all suggested to point during a presentation with your right hand. Some people (including myself) have a hard time with this, so they are instructed to keep their left hands in their pockets. This is to keep them from crossing their arm over their body and potentially preventing people on their left side from seeing. It is also a way to show that they are relaxed and they know what they are talking about!

      A2: Two hands in the pockets, as Nicholas pointed out in a few other replies, usually signifies unease.

      I hope this information helped!
      ~Alexis

  14. Chandler Armstrong July 11, 2015 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    What about the classic arms folded or crossed over the chest. I often see people do this, and while hiding they are hiding their hands and therefore they seeming at times when they are not accepting what people say, this doesn’t always seem to be true. My working hypothesis is that when they do this will attending a lecture or presentation, that they are making some sort of judgement, or evaluating what is being talked about

    • Nicolas Fradet July 12, 2015 at 11:48 am - Reply

      Chandler,

      For many people (me included), folding your arms is a comfortable position. So many times, it’s just that people are fine and it doesn’t mean anything (like when attending a lecture or presentation). What you are looking for is something that triggers it. Again it might just be that the person is comfortable. But if you see that something that was said or done could put that person outside their comfort zone, or nervous, or angry, it can become a very valuable clue.

  15. sai July 18, 2015 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    What does falling / dropping of hands mean? Like the wrist is bent down.. like a kangaroo?

  16. Nitin Joshi July 23, 2015 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Dear Nikolas,
    Thanks for all the information.
    What does it mean when a person has his left hand in pocket and offers the right hand for a handshake?

    Regards
    Nitin

  17. Anne Bauman July 25, 2015 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I find this picture very interesting and wonder what you think of everyone’s body language.
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/07/24/pressure-on-stephen-harper-to-articulate-plan-for-scandal-plagued-senate.html
    Thanks!

  18. Nika August 7, 2015 at 7:28 am - Reply

    What would you describe the meaning conveyed by both hands as if holding a glass in each hand. Crescent shaped form. Then touching thumb, forefinger, middle finger and ring finger in a tapping manner. Sometimes the thumb and forefinger seem to be dominant in pressure, or heald together a moment longer than tapping/ a slight pressing. Looking at hands towards the end of the vocalized thought, or off and on during?

    • Nicolas Fradet August 17, 2015 at 7:05 pm - Reply

      Hi Nika,

      That’s called steepling, and it’s a power gesture. It’s either used when someone is very confident, or has been coached to show power.

      Nicolas

    • Mike October 17, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      I’ve seen people do this while counting, I do it when I’m running low on patience or when I want to focus deeper on something.

  19. Paul Read August 14, 2015 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Pointing index finger towards/ in the direction of an object and/or direction to go to, is that considered as bad manners? Or frowned upon as not polite?