Communication – Nonverbal –Hands

Communication – Nonverbal –Hands


Nonverbal cues are quite informative as compared to verbal communication, this is because it’s harder to conceal the truth which happens quite often in verbal communication. It’s an outward expression of body emotion, whatever you are feeling is likely reflected through non-verbal.

Everyone has a different way of how they express their non-verbals, but with the underlying common known traits, one can read with accuracy if they master nonverbal cues well, looking for deviations from baseline behaviors which provides tones of information.

This article is a second part of a continuation of our previous chapter focusing on non-verbal communication with focus on hands and the nonverbal cues expressed through them.

All nonverbal cues send information to people we interact with when we do, we continuously give and receive wordless signals which accompany words uttered in support of the feeling being expressed.

Ask yourself this question, where do you keep your hands when talking, and where do your palms face while at it, this decides whether our audience agree in support or oppose depending on whether we have used appealing hand and palm gestures. I say this because our hands are very useful in communication, due to the number of neural connections they have to the brain, which is much more than all other body parts.

In this article, we shall approach hand communication from two major perspectives, voluntary and non-voluntary gestures, which we shall refer to as conscious and non-conscious cues.

We need to understand that some cues happen subconsciously while others happen consciously, for those who know and understand nonverbal in depth, ability to deduce this kind of communication can only come to our advantage effortlessly.

Subconscious cues

These are cues that occur without much of our effort, control or knowledge and tend to give us away in most cases without our knowledge; ranging from arm folding, hand swinging when walking, positioning when seated, holding head with both hands, rubbing, holding waist or even covering ones mouth.

We acquire most of these through our culture, upbringing, social fitting, personal choices as well as our environment, they tend to teach us how to react when experiencing different emotions.

Conscious cues

These are cues and gestures we instigate or do on purpose, ranging from handshakes, holding, blocking, pulling, pointing, aggression, directing

When giving a presentation, it’s important to watch for cues exhibited by the audience indicating interest or disinterest, so as to know how, where and when to spice up the presentation. Let us look at specific hand cues we can focus on in this broad topic.

When the hand is stretched horizontally with the palms facing down while issuing instructions we get more of an order than a request or shared information. See diagram below.

This is a power symbol as used by the German nazi President Adolf Hitler, you can imagine what it would communicate if Hitler saluted with his hands facing up, more like submission I would say.

The palms partially facing up with hands stretched in front while issuing instructions is deemed as welcoming, it as well grants the audience the feeling of submission, this portrays a good speaker and is assured of more attention. The speaker presents as laid back, friendly, humorous and engaging as opposed to authoritative when his palms are facing down.


When issuing the same instructions with a pointed finger, a completely different message is communicated all together, more of a directive not allowing much to remember and is described by the least interesting adjectives compared to the speakers with the previous hand gestures, this as well stands out as authoritative without much care of his audience.


The opposite works as well, in that if you wish to attain a certain emotion, all you need to do is practice the gesture. For example, if you wish to feel more confident and in charge during a presentation, the below gesture can be adopted accompanied with a little grim on the face to reassure oneself.



Hand Shakes

Handshakes, Short rituals where people grasp one (usually the right) of each other’s hands sometimes with a brief up and down movement, generally done upon meeting, greeting, offering congratulations, gratitude expression, its main purpose is to convey trust, respect, balance and equality.

A tip on hand shakes, give the same pressure as you receive.

The hand on the upper side with a slight inclination is a clue that gives away a dominant person.


Handshakes tell a lot especially when accompanied by other nonverbal communication cues.

During a handshake, it is recommended that a facial gesture accompanies it, usually a sign of respect and acknowledgement, the opposite communicate hints of disrespect or disinterest, as can be observed in the photos above.

More can be expressed through hand nonverbal communication including gestures, touches, hand positioning and movements.

Reading more hand cues

Sometimes people use their hands to form a barrier when their personal spaces are invaded. This happens by lifting both hands to chest height with the inside of your palms facing the person the gesture is meant for.

Fidgeting with the hands is as well another important cue to watch out for, it can be used to communicate boredom, inconsistency, disinterest, tension, uncertainty or even destruction and most times comes as a result of emotional overload


Clenched fists communicate tension which could probably be due to environment, topic of discussion or displeasure, need to contain oneself or a lie which can result in rubbing of the thumb and index finger with the clinched fist.


Claps and applause on the other hand are one of the commonest in we observe, it is used to show appreciation.

A girl who touches everyone tends not to touch the person she likes, and the girl who doesn’t touch everybody tends to touch the person they like.

Standing with hands held anywhere in front of the body trunk denotes discomfort with either the environment, subject of discussion or persons one is talking to, whether on the chest, stomach or groin region. It denatures that comfortable “hand on the side” position we assume when comfortable.

The good news is that you can learn this with a little practice, start by identifying your dominant position and work on it.

Correct decoding of nonverbal communication requires that one identifies more than a single nonverbal cue, it’s important to identify other cluster of behaviors from 4 to 5 that accompany the main nonverbal in question, observe other separate readings that can communicate a feeling or an emotion in support of the decoded cue.

For example, to detect someone who is lying, look for emotional overload Cues, they tend to get expressed in the actions exhibited through both their verbal and nonverbal.

However, you need to have first gained understanding of cognitive cues in depth in order to decode them correctly.

People experience emotions when they tell a lie. These are; fears, guilt and delight of getting away with the lie.

There are specific cognitive behaviors that are associated with this, however they do not necessarily mean that they are telling a lie. They only give an indication that there is something wrong or not right.

We can thus say that they assist in identifying emotions within an individual but does not affirm the emotions as the main reasons behind the emotion experienced, bearing in mind there could be a wide range of reasons.

One has to look for cues and study emotion before finally deducing the most probable reason as to why it could be a lie or not.

You need to engage more cognitive skills to arrive at the truth, this means that when one tells a lie, they need more cues to support the lie as opposed to telling the truth.

Animated hand gesture overload or failure to move a lot in other cases or even arm folding indicate discomfort in the subject of discussion.

When a story is made up, it’s easy to notice non consistence with the hand gestures to go with it, as well as the rest of the accompanying nonverbal cues like the eyes, shoulders, feet, head or even the neck, this is because more effort is drawn to making the lie believable, limiting and taxing effort for attention to other things.

I leave you with a couple of diagrams to decode and test your understanding on this subject.

Challenge yourself and watch out for this cues.

Frank Odhiambo

Mind Grid Perspectives





Prof Allan Pease of Macquarie University

Prof Blake Eastman – Body language expert

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