Influence & Body Language

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.

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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

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

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


  • 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.

    • 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.


  • 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?

  • 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.

    Randall Eisenhoffer Howard

  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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?


  • 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?

  • 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?

    • Hi Paul,

      That really depends on the context. Usually if you point at someine, it can be seen as impolite. But for example if you are helping out someone with directions on the street, that would be totally fine.


  • Hay nick
    I greeted a female that I am an acquaintance with for some reason with my left hand out facing downward ( because she was very much to my left) she in return placed her right hand under mine and caressing or rubbing our hands slightly from palm to fingers…

    What did my hand language tell her?
    And what was her response telling me?
    Her paln response seemed sensual in a way, did I read that incorrectly or correctly? Or just my inagination?
    Thank you on advance

    • Hi Pablo,

      It’s hard to say about the sensuality without being there. You would be the best person to know.

      Your gesture however did signal that you were in charge of the situation (you would be leading her), and she accepted to take your hand. So I would see this as a positive outcome, meaning she feels she can trust you on some level.


      • She actually didn’t take my hand though, and that’s what I’m wondering the meaning of her gesture? The gesture of placing her hand under mine, but not holding or grasping it, but her fingers caressing my palm down to my finger tips. Then away…

  • Hey Nick,

    I read your piece and all the comments but could not find a response to my question. What does it mean when someone suddenly starts rubbing their fingers of one hand into the palm of the very same hand? It almost looks like someone trying to hold sand in one palm except that there is the rubbing happening. A thought provoking conversation was going on and this person abruptly started doing this. Any ideas?

  • Hello Nicolas,
    I’m very interested in how you read knuckle cracking by individuals. I’ve observed it in different people in a way that seems like a power gesture? Is this a true read and what did it develope from?
    Thank you,

  • Is there a difference when someone gives you a single pat to the back of your upper shoulder using full their full palm or just their finger tips? Especially if the person doing the patting likely senses you are anxious or nervous? This occurred with a specialist (doctor) who I’ve seen four times now, maybe two to three out of the four visits. Both kinds of pats as mentioned above. And yes I do feel anxious around most doctors.

  • I think I know what it means, but what it is called: you clasp your hands together and then shake them over each shoulder while slightly bowing with each swing of the clasped hands to each shoulder (like the Lolli-pop Guild character in Wizard of Oz does while he’s being cheered for his Welcome song to Dorothy). Thanks!

  • What is the meaning if a person scrubbing his other hand while talking (about a particular thing and not always talking). Is it showing his tension?

  • Hi Nicolas,
    Thank you for a very informative post. I have never been too concerned with analysing people or their tells in the past … I guess I am a late bloomer when it comes to “getting with the game”, but now it’s as a necessity – not as an advantage as I am starting to engage with business owners on their level (who have been aware of these subtleties their whole working life). I’m not writing to tell you of a “missed” hand position, more so to give you a point to ponder. The post I read (hand-body-language) did not appear to be very gender neutral. I am one who likes to type out what I read into my own shorthand version so that the content really sinks in. Whilst I was doing this with your post, the absence of one gender kept coming up – I had to keep correcting the terminology as I interpreted the lesson. To continually reach a wider audience with informative posts, it is not good to inadvertently alienate half your potential audience whilst they read an initial introduction to the content, so it is important for it to show respect to both sexes by using gender neutral terminology.

  • A brother and sister are standing side by side, each holding their own hands ( the right hand is holding the left hand’s fingers, for the sister and vice versa for the brother). I’m curious to know what this means

  • Nice article! May I know what’s the meaning of hand on collar gesture? For example, your right hand touching the collar on the left side while explaining things. Thanks!

    • Hi Denise,

      It’s hard to say without context, but it could mean simply that this is a comfortable position for that person, or perhaps that he or she is uncomfortable with the discussion. It tends to depend on when they adopted that hand position. Was something said and then she did it? This could mean a discomfort.


      • Hi Nicolas, I have often seen few of my friends and colleagues cover their Fist fully but not tight enough unlike, the normal half moon curve. What does that mean. Is it the person is nervous or not ready to trust or ???

  • Hi!

    Thanks for sharing all these informations!

    I have a question for you. I had a supervisor a few years ago, he was rubbing his right hand, either with arm in low (along the body) or high position (elbow on desk). The gesture was like when you’re at a desk, pen in the hand, elbow on the desk, hand high, rubbing the pen – but without the pen. A few months later, he quit. The next supervisor after a certain time did the exact same thing and a few months later he also quit.

    What does this mean?

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Cynthia,

      Hard to say without seeing it live, but this often means a certain discomfort or heighten level of stress.

      (any type of self-massaging/self-rubbing is often that)



  • What about the gesture Donald Trump uses with thumb and forefinger together like an ok sign? And what does it mean when a person rests the chin on partially closed hand as Hillary did when she was being asked about Benghazi?

  • What about when someone is speaking to you, looking down at their hands while they are rubbing the tips of, say, their left fingers with their right hand? Does that signify anything?

  • I notice Donald Trump consistently curling his index fingers or touching index fingesr to thumbs while motioning with his hands. Just wondering if there was any study showing such motioning to signify underlying meaning.

  • So rubbing your arm with the opposite hand could be a mix of heightened stress levels and anticipation (rubbing)?
    Thinking of a colleague who, when approached by a new woman in the office put one arm across his chest and rubbed with his hand. I interpreted it as him being interested in this woman. Is this right?

    • Reef,

      The way you describer it there would be some discomfort or anxiety. That does not mean he’s interested in her (could be), could also be that she intimidates him, he doesn’t like her all the same.



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