Without realising it, your hands may be sending nonverbal signals that undermine your words. You may sound confident but if you constantly twiddle your hair, or fiddle with your jewellery or clothing, you will appear nervous and unsure. If your fingers are tightly laced together, you will appear tense, in spite of your attempts to sound relaxed and at ease. Habits such as drumming the table with your fingertips or swinging a leg to and fro as you speak suggest you are feeling stressed.
Over-expansive hand gestures can be distracting. If you compulsively mime every word you speak, drawing in the air to show what you mean by ‘ticket’, ‘book’ or ‘list’ and making huge circles to indicate concepts such a ‘big’ or ‘a lot’, you make it harder for your listener to take in what you are saying.
However, if you use your hands effectively, they can support your words and help you appear more confident and assertive.
When you are communicating a decision or making a definitive statement, a gesture such as one where you bring your parallel hands down sharply, in a kind of chopping style, emphasises your resolve.
The hidden language of hand gestures
Keep your palms open as much as possible, particularly when you want to convince someone of your sincerity. Traditionally, this gesture is associated with openness and honesty as it shows you are not carrying a weapon and do not present a threat.
Extending your hands with the palms up is an inclusive gesture that indicates your willingness to listen and cooperate. You probably do this instinctively in certain situations, but when we feel nervous or under pressure, we are likely to clench our fists or lace our fingers together in a tight knot. Relax your fingers and keep them spread out.
Palms down is a helpful gesture in some circumstances. If you want to come across really strongly, hold your hands just above waist height, with the palms down. This gesture might accompany a strong order or request to do something, just do it, please. You might depress your hands as you speak for added emphasis.
If, on the other hand, your words are suggesting harmony, you can underline this feeling by putting your hands in front of you at waist height and spreading them out, palms down, in a movement that suggests soothing and smoothing. This gesture might accompany a reassuring statement such as ‘I think that together we can sort this out’. You will give the impression of calm, unruffled control.
Take the sentence: ‘So I need it done by Thursday at the latest.’
Say it with the chopping gesture. How do you sound? Is anyone going to argue? You are having the final word, girl, and you are giving it without shouting or pleading, in a nicely authoritative way.
Now say it with the smoothing gesture. How do you sound? Much softer, probably. Much more gentle and conciliatory. Much more bringing people on board.
You choose – just make your gestures match your words and the message you are conveying.
And you can find many more practical exercises and examples from Mary in The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want. Mary is a writer and personal development coach who leads workshops and training courses. Packed with humour, it is a book you will want to treasure and turn to time and time again.
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