Confidence Tells of the Hands

Our hands help tell our stories.

Old scars. Class rings. Emphatic speeches to the masses! Insert rude gesture here!

Image "/approve" by hobvias sudoneighm, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Thumbs Up is a display of confidence. Image “/approve” by hobvias sudoneighm, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Before spoken language, our hands described the large monsters in the forest. Hands are used to protect the tribe, signalling for silence. They’re used to show gratitude and love.

As a result, we’ve learned to pay special attention to hands. They’re humanity’s primary form of communication. They’re extremely useful in persuasion.

Because our brain naturally is drawn to watching hands,it’s important to understand their tells and gestures. Joe Navarro focuses Chapter 6 of our PRL selection, What Every BODY is Saying, on the hands.

The hands convey social meanings. A firm handshake, for example, means different things in different parts of the world. Some times, a limp handshake is appropriate — other times, maybe a hug. If you’re traveling, research the customs. But anywhere you are in the world, Navarro warns us — never put your pointer finger on the other person’s wrist!

You increase your persuasiveness when your hands are visible and active. Your hands help to emphasize your points. When your limbic system is active and uninhibited, you’re acting with high confidence in your words.

When your hands aren’t visible and they’re hiding, your body inactive, you may be seen as untrustworthy. Your body appears as if it’s in the freeze state, trying to minimize exposure. You appear to have low confidence in the things you say. Don’t do that.

Avoid gestures that offend others. Don’t flick them off, don’t point, don’t give them the pinky.

Finally, keep nice looking hands. Don’t bite your nails, it’s a sign of nervousness and low confidence. I’m still fighting this one!

If your hands get sweaty before a big event, try to calm your nerves — and help others do the same! Remember, as Dr. Schwartz told us in The Magic of Thinking Big, you’re just a few important people talking with each other. Or as I frame my 2017 New Years System: Redefine Fear as Excitement.

Hands also lend themselves to displaying comfort and discomfort. Like the rest of the limbic system, hands react in real time to changes in the environment. Remember to always look for a change from the baseline behavior.

Signs of discomfort and low confidence include:

  • Shaking or trembling hands as the body is flooded with adrenaline for the flight or fight responses
  • Folded hands to minimize exposure
  • Hands tucked into pockets
  • Thumbs tucked into one’s pockets
  • Stroking or itching of the palms
  • Rubbing your neck

Signs of high confidence include:

  • Steepled fingers are a sign of high confidence. Image "Touch" by Katie Tegtmeyer, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
    Steepled fingers are a sign of high confidence. Image “Touch” by Katie Tegtmeyer, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

    Steepled fingers, as if creating a crown with the hands. Steepled fingers behind the head is a very high-confidence display

  • Exposed hands, above the table, not fidgeting
  • Thumbs up displays are examples of gravity defying behavior. When people are excited or feeling good they’ll often give the thumbs-up. Folded hands will display their thumbs during good points of a conversation, and hide them at low points. People displaying their thumbs when tucking their hands into pockets display their confidence.
  • Men might frame their genitals as a display of dominance and confidence.
Genital Framing is a display of high confidence. Image "Women posing with a cowboy" by simpleinsomnia, Flickr CC-By-2.0
Genital Framing is a display of high confidence. Image “Women posing with a cowboy” by simpleinsomnia, Flickr CC-By-2.0

To increase your own persuasiveness, use these high-confidence tells of the hands. People will respond to your displays of confidence. Your own body will also respond to these actions. As we know, the body and brain affect one another. Forcing your body to posture a specific way will influence your brain to act accordingly.

When reading others, always look for a change from their baseline behavior. Keep an eye out for multiple tells that reinforce one another.