Body Language 93 Small Hand Gestures

September 13, 2020

In a prior Body Language Article – 14 Hand Gestures, I discussed large hand gestures, such as pointing or using the “Time Out” signal. In this article I will discuss some of the smaller gestures that we are all aware of and use regularly to communicate concepts.

Here are some of my favorite small hand gestures:

Tiny amount – We signal something small or a tiny amount by pinching our forefinger and thumb together and then opening a very small space between the fingers. We often hold our hand at eye level as we do this as if we are looking through the gap between the fingers.

Call me – For this gesture, we first make a fist with our left hand, then we extend our pinkie and thumb straight out. It is an invitation to have the other person call you soon.

Text me – in this case we would simulate holding a phone in one hand and pretend to be pecking letters into an app.

You have the floor – We signal for another person to speak by extending one hand outward with palm up. Extending both hands with palm up is generally a signal of openness.

Good job – For this gesture we usually use one thumb up. This can also mean agreement.

We won – The victory signal with the first two fingers held straight up in a simulated letter “V” is the way we convey this concept. You must be aware of the context, because the same gesture can indicate the number two. In general, we signal any number up to ten by holding up that number of fingers.

Another meaning with fingers held up is the number of minutes or the cost of an item. This gesture is also used to indicate “peace.”

Anger – we signal anger by holding up a clenched fist. You can see that gesture at most protests when groups of people want to signal their displeasure. This gesture is also a sign for black power.

Easy – We snap our fingers to show something was very easy for us to do.

OKAY – The OK sign with the forefinger and thumb touching forming a letter “O” is the typical meaning in western society, yet it is dangerous to use this sign in different culture groups. For example, in Japan the gesture means “nothing” and in some countries it is actually an obscene gesture indicating a homosexual act.

Stop – We usually just hold up our hand with the palm facing the person we are trying to stop.

Go faster – for this gesture, we rotate our hand in a tight circle from the wrist.

Be quiet – for this gesture, we hold our hand palm down sometimes patting as if to dampen the sound.

Shoot – to indicate hostility toward another person, we might use the simulated gun gesture with the index finger out straight and the thumb sticking up. The other three fingers are curled into a semi fist. Depending on the circumstances, this gesture can be dangerous. I suggest you don’t use it at all.

There are numerous other hand signals that make up the lexicon of body language. Of course, there is also an entire language that a hearing or non-hearing person can use to communicate with a deaf person. This language is called “signing,” or in the USA “ASL – American Sign Language.”

Keep your eyes open for the hand gestures we use to communicate every day. You will see these simple movements of our digits greatly enhance our ability to communicate.


This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”



Leadership Barometer 48 Recovering From a Mistake

May 1, 2020

I have always been fascinated by mistakes. As human beings, we share several things in common; making mistakes is one of them. The vast majority of the time we blunder into mistakes innocently.

Obviously, if we could see mistakes coming, we would take steps to avoid them. The mistake is usually like a mouse trap that is sprung on us while our focus was on something else.

The interesting thing to me is how we react after a mistake. It is here that I learned a great lesson in leadership and trust. The lesson came years ago when I was a young manager.

I was in Japan negotiating a deal for some equipment. I had inadvertently left some material on a table while a group went out for lunch. Some of the material would have been damaging to our negotiating position if it were leaked to the other side.

Upon returning from lunch, I realize that I had left things in a state where they could have been copied and later used against us. I did not know if anybody actually did copy some pages, but I felt horrible about my lapse.

Upon returning to the home office in the US, I immediately reported to my boss’s office and said, “Dick, you would never know this if I didn’t tell you, but I made a mistake when I was in Japan this week.”

He looked up at me with a smirk and said, “Whatd’ya do?” I explained my lapse in detail. He said, “You’re right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did. The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that moment on, I felt a much higher level of trust and respect for me in the eyes of my boss. I believe it gave my career a significant and lasting boost.

The key point in the above lesson was that he really would never have known anything about it if I had not admitted the gaff. It was the unprompted admission that spoke much louder than the sin.

Since then I have studied the impact of admitting mistakes for leaders, and come away with some observations.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered several leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “After you make a mistake, in terms of maximizing respect for you, is it better to admit it or try to finesse it?”

Nearly all leaders would say admitting the mistake has a much greater probability of increasing respect. The irony is that when subsequently a mistake is made, most of these same leaders choose to hide it, blame someone else, or pretend it didn’t happen.

The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time, you would hear “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that intellectually, most leaders know how to improve respect and trust after a mistake, but many of them tend to not act that way when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go. I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake.

When you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust, because it is unexpected. This is especially true if you are a leader.

Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, leaders know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk.

When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Respect is not always increased if a mistake is admitted. For example, here are three circumstances where admitting a mistake would reduce respect and trust:

1. If this was the third time you had made the same mistake
2. If the mistake was so stupid it reveals you as being clueless
3. If the mistake was made in an effort to hurt someone or part of a sinister plot

If you find yourself making these kinds of mistakes, it would be wise to reconsider if you are right for a leadership position at all.

The vast majority or mistakes are honest lapses where something unexpected happened. For these so-called “honest” mistakes, it is far better to admit them and ask for forgiveness than to try to finesse the situation or blame others or circumstances. It is a tangible demonstration of your integrity, and that improves trust.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Leadership Barometer 62 Victory

January 11, 2020

The common “Victory” gesture is well known to us all. Habitually, we interpret the signal as one of strength and impending or realized victory.

There have been times in history where the victory sign, made by showing the first and second fingers in the shape of the letter “V,” had a different meaning. It is important to know when you are dealing with the common gesture versus some more esoteric flavor.

For example, the familiar usage to indicate victory is normally made with the palm of the person making the gesture facing toward the viewer. When the palm is facing toward the person making the gesture, it can have a completely different meaning. When coupled by an upward jerking motion of the forearm, it means “up yours.”

In Sports

We see the Victory sign made by athletes in every facet of the sports world. It is normally directed at someone out of earshot, and it simply means “we won.” It can also be shown before the contest, and in that case it means “we are going to win.”

In Politics

People running for office will often flash the victory sign in rallies as a show of confidence that they are going to win the race. You often see the gesture used in Congress when one side of the aisle is intent on prevailing over those nasty people on the other side.

Who can forget how Nixon frequently used the Double V with both arms outstretched. He even used it as he was boarding his helicopter immediately after he resigned from the presidency.

In War

The victory sign has historically been used when one side has won a battle. Who can forget the US soldiers riding through Europe flashing the victory sign at the end of WWII. Similarly, we recall Winston Churchill showing the victory sign as a way to instill confidence within the people of England that they would ultimately prevail. His famous admonition given at the time was “Never, never, never, quit.”

In Klingon

Of course, there have been variations on the victory sign, like the one on Star Trek when Mr. Spock would show the “Vulcan Salute” with four fingers split two on each side of the letter “V.”

The meaning of that gesture was very different from the single victory sign. It meant “Live Long and Prosper.” One interesting thing about that gesture is that it can be hard for some people to make it. I believe that is why Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” was so prone to use the gesture. It made him feel superior, because not everyone could do it. Can you?

In School

School children, and even adults often will use the victory gesture to signal another person across the room that they just aced a test.

Upside Down V

This gesture is not used a lot, but when you see it, the normal connotation is that our team was successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no pride in this gesture at all.

It also has the negative connotation, because you have to make the gesture with your palm facing yourself. It is very uncomfortable to make the upside down “V” sign with your palm facing away from you. If you doubt that, try it now yourself.

The simple hand gesture of forming a letter “V” with two fingers is one of the most common forms of body language. Curiously, this gesture, unlike many others, is not highly susceptible to misinterpretation when going form one culture to another. You can use the signal often and anywhere, and rarely will you be misunderstood. In some parts of the world, the gesture is used a lot more than others.

For example, in Japan the gesture is used by young people who are being photographed. The gesture even has a name in Japanese: they call it “pisu sain.”

Go ahead and use this gesture freely, but just make sure your palm is toward the observer rather than toward yourself.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 29 Admitting Mistakes

December 16, 2019

One of the most powerful opportunities for any leader to build trust is to publicly admit mistakes.

The source of that power is that it is so rare for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say something like this:

“I called you here today to admit that I made a serious blunder yesterday. It was not intentional, as I will explain. Nevertheless, I failed to do the best thing for our group. I sincerely apologize for this and call on all of us to help mend the damage quickly. Without being defensive, let me just explain what happened…”

If you were in the audience listening to this leader, how would you react? Chances are your trust for the leader would be enhanced, simply by the straightforward approach and honesty of the statements.

Of course, it does depend on the nature of the mistake. Here are a few situations where an admission of a mistake would not produce higher trust:

• If the blunder was out of sheer stupidity.
• If this was the third time the leader had done essentially the same thing.
• If the leader is prone to making mistakes due to shooting before aiming.
• If the leader simply failed to get information that he should have had.
• If the leader was appeasing higher-ups inappropriately.

Assuming none of the above conditions is present and the mistake is an honest one, admitting it publicly is often the best strategy. There is an interesting twist to this approach that has often baffled me.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered 100 leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “If you had made a mistake, which of the following two actions would have the greater chance of increasing the level of respect people have for you?

(A) You call people together, admit your mistake, apologize, and ask people to help you correct the problem.

(B) You try to avoid the issue, blame the problem on someone else, downplay the significance, pretend it did not happen, or otherwise attempt to weasel out of responsibility.

Given those two choices, I am confident that at least 99 out of the 100 leaders would say action (A) has a much greater probability of increasing respect.

The reason I am confident is that I have run that experiment dozens of times when working with leaders in groups. The irony is that when an error is subsequently made, roughly 80% of the same leaders choose action more consistent with choice (B).

The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time and ask him why he chose (B) over (A), he would most likely say, “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that, in the classroom, all leaders know how to improve respect and trust, but many of them tend to forget that knowledge when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go.

I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake, but when you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence.

Early in my career, I made a mistake on a trip to Japan and left some confidential information where it might have been viewed by those who could have used it against my company. Upon returning home, I went immediately to my boss and said, “I have to share that I did a dumb thing while I was in Japan last week.” He said, “What did you do”?

I told him the story of what happened and that my lapse could have caused some jeopardy for us. His response was, “Well you know, you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did.” He said, “The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that point on, I knew that he trusted me completely over the next 25 years. It was because I blew myself in when I didn’t have to. He would never have known what happened if I did not tell him.

Intellectually, many leaders know the best route to improve trust is to admit a mistake, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk.

When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Successful Supervisor 76 Building Trust for Life

May 13, 2018

Early in my career I learned a valuable lesson that is important for all supervisors to know. The circumstances will be different but the lesson is unmistakable.

I was sent to Japan to negotiate a deal on a large supply of high capacity floppy disks. I was nervous going over because my boss was busy preparing a law suit against many of the companies I would be negotiating with for dumping low capacity floppy disks on the US market.

On the flight, my buddy and I amused ourselves by making notes in a periodical that described the tension between our organization and the Japanese companies. We probably wrote some things that were too juicy for public consumption.

The trip went very well, and there was no acrimony with our hosts. Coming back from a long lunch on the final day, I noticed that I had left my briefcase open and the periodical was on top of the stack. I realized that someone could have read and copied some of the private information, which would have damaged our case. I was terrified that my actions could possibly turn into a major gaffe with my boss.

As soon as I got back I went to my boss immediately and told him that I did something really stupid in Japan the prior week. He said, “What did you do?” My reply was, “You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…”

He looked up at me and said, “You know you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did. The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that day on for the next 25 years until he retired, I was golden boy to him. Reason: I blew myself in (admitted my mistake) when I didn’t have to. Essentially I earned his trust for life by owning up to my indiscretion.

The lesson that I learned was that even though I did something admittedly dumb, I was able to turn it into a major step forward for my entire career. Most of us intellectually know that admitting a mistake is usually a trust-building action. There are two kinds of mistakes where this would not be the case:

1. If the mistake is a repeat of one that was made once or many times in the past

2. If the mistake was so stupid that it revealed the person to be clueless

Most mistakes are things that simply did not go the way we planned, so they are easily forgiven when we openly admit to them. This method is particularly potent for people in supervisory positions. Reason: From past experience most of us view supervisors and managers as people having a hard time admitting mistakes.

Exercise for you: Look for opportunities to admit your own vulnerability. Obviously it is a silly strategy to create mistakes so you can admit them, but we all do have lapses from time to time. When you are smart enough to blow yourself in, it usually impacts your long term prognosis favorably. Try it and see if you agree.

Human beings normally have the capacity to forgive an occasional error if it was done with good intent. By admitting an error, you will give a powerful demonstration of your own personal integrity. That is a tangible sign of being a trustworthy person.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763