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.”



Body Language 64 Hand Slap

January 24, 2020

The hand slap is a gesture that is normally exchanged between friends. It often takes place in two parts, especially if both parties are standing.

First the individuals slap their hands together at shoulder height or above (this is known as a “high five”), then one individual puts the same hand at waist level palm up and the other person slaps it with his palm down.

For this gesture to work as intended, it is imperative that both people have the palm of one hand engaged in the exchange. If a person slaps another person anywhere on the body without palm-to-palm contact, it is almost universally interpreted as a put down: like “a slap in the face.”

It is also possible to have both hands involved in the gesture. Some people prefer that method but the meaning is the same regardless of whether it is one or both hands.

There are numerous examples of when a hand slap might be the appropriate gesture to use. Let’s examine several situations and discuss how the slap works as a congratulatory gesture.

Cheering on a runner

Imagine your spouse is a runner in a marathon. You are standing on the sidelines, and there is so much cheering, your mate would never pick out your voice. But as she passes by you, she gives you a hand slap gesture as a thank you for your support.

An example in the work setting would be a worker completing a difficult assignment ahead of the due date. The manager might give this person a welcoming high five.

After a supervisor makes a great welcoming speech

Suppose a supervisor has just given an amazing onboarding talk to a group of 15 new hires. It is well known that getting new employees off to an excellent start emotionally does wonders for their successful incorporation into the organization. The manager, who was watching the training gives the supervisor a high five as he walks to the back of the room.

A speaker comes off stage

The person waiting in the wings gives the hand slap gesture as a way to indicate the speaker nailed the presentation. No words need be said for the meaning to come through loud and clear.

Manufacturing team does a product change in record time

Suppose a group of employees on a packaging line has taken on the challenge to make product changes more efficient. They try several new ideas and come up with a way to get the job done in half the time it normally takes. The supervisor does a high five with all of the team members as a way to congratulate them.

Slapping yourself

If a person slaps himself, it is normally a gesture of frustration rather than congratulations. Most often a person will slap herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand to indicate that she just made a bone-head move.

The only frustrating part of the hand slap gesture is if one person wants to do the two part variety but the other person only participates in the first half of the gesture. The cure for that kind of awkward situation is to take your cue from the other person. If you see no sign of the second half at waist high, then don’t offer it.

On flip side, if the other person sticks out her hand waist high with palm up, it is an indication that she wants to do the full double hand slap. You need to be alert to pick up the desire of the other person in real time.

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


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.”