When you communicate, your brain automatically involves your hands to convey thoughts and emotions, without you even knowing it. In that way, your hands’ body language can reveal what you don’t say with your words.
How 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
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
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 in 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
This 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
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
Pointing 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-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
Clasping 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.
Steepling 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
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
Even if someone tries to hide what he’s really thinking, his hands 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.