Body Language 13 Wringing of Hands

February 1, 2019

When you think about it, the human hand is a remarkable instrument. We have amazing dexterity and control of motion that is not seen in any other species. I once saw a demonstration by a speaker who had no hands. In order to illustrate the impact, he had a member of the audience come up on stage. There was a bottle of water on the table. The speaker asked the man to take a drink of water. Without using his hands, it was impossible for the man to get the bottle open. Think about how you would attempt to do it.

We take for granted how blessed we are that most of us have full use of our hands for most of our lives. We signal some of our emotions with gestures using our hands all the time. Just to sample a few common gestures, you can convey the following concepts with simple gestures. Try to show the following concepts using just your hands:

Stop
Hurry up
Call me
Just a little bit
Great job
See you later
Text me
I’m not sure
Go ahead

In future articles, I will deal with various ways we use our hands to communicate meaning and amplify our verbal communication. In this article I will focus on the gesture of wringing the hands. It is a common form of body language that we have all witnessed and all practice at some point. Like all gestures, there can be more than one meaning to this gesture, but the most common one is anxiety.

When a person is nervous, it is natural to put palms together and squeeze and slide one palm over the other in a wringing motion. Next time you are at the dentist’s office waiting for your appointment, if you are not reading a magazine or fiddling with your phone, look down at your hands. Chances are you will be doing some form of hand wringing. Until you stop and think about it, you are probably unaware that you are even doing it.

Let’s imagine together a cluster of body language signals that indicate a man is probably anxious. He is wringing his hands. His head is lowered toward hunched shoulders revealing less exposed neck. His jaw is set and lips are pursed. His head is slightly tilted. He has an upward glance and a slightly raised eyebrow. With that cluster of gestures, we can be quite certain the man is anxious about something.

Hand wringing can also result from the hands being cold. The physical friction of one hand sliding over the other creates some heat, and the hands feel warmer. Often rather than wringing the hands in a closed pattern, when people are cold, they tend to slide the palms and fingers over each other with fingers pointing straight up.

Coincidentally, anxiety can also cause the hands to become cold, because the body instinctively sends more blood to the vital organs in times of crisis or fear. The body is preparing for fight or flight. This is the reason your hands often feel cold when you have a job interview, a performance appraisal, or have to speak in public.

In order for any hand gestures to be effective, the hands must be visible. This is because when hands are hidden you cannot gesture at all to add credibility and congruence to what you are saying. This is the reason that hiding your hands when talking with someone generally results in somewhat lower trust.

We shall revisit hand gestures later in this series because there is a wealth of meaning to be understood. Hand gestures are particularly important when we first meet a person because there is a lot of evaluation going on at that time. We can actually plant a seed of trust (or not) within just a few seconds, as I will explain in a future article.

In the meantime, take note of the hand gestures you see. Note that usually wringing of the hands goes along with some form of anxiety. Also note that some people use hand movements to emphasize almost every word they utter while other people are much more restrictive with their hand gestures. Take note of how you use your own hands when talking to other people. You do it all the time, but are rarely conscious of these actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language 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 600 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


Body Language 5 Steepling

December 8, 2018

Starting this week, I will be describing several body gestures or positions to indicate the classical meaning for each one and also some caveats on how they might be misinterpreted.

The source of this information is numerous body language sites online plus a wonderful DVD on “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson from the University of Pittsburgh. Here is a link to the video in case you might want to purchase it.

Also, some of the information was derived from numerous books, such as the famous “How to Read a Person Like a Book” by Gerard Nierenberg.

The first gesture is called “steepling.” This is a form of demonstrating power when two people are in conversation. The classic gesture is fingers together and palms apart. Usually the person with the higher power is the one doing the steepling, and the higher the power the higher on the body the steepling will be.

A typical example of when you might encounter steepling is when you are asking a superior for a favor. Suppose I am your manager, and you want to ask me for some extra vacation time because you have used up all your time and need an extra day. You come into my office and sit across the desk from me. I lean back and listen to you without saying anything but assuming a pose similar to this picture.

This body language indicates that I am listening politely, but I am not likely to grant your wish. If you see this kind of gesture, it means that the person demonstrating power over you, so it would be a good idea to back off and try a different approach at another time.

When standing, the higher the steeple, the greater the power differential. Also, women in positions of power will sometimes do a reverse steeple with fingers together and palms apart but the fingers are pointing downward.

If you are talking with a person of higher power and he or she starts to steeple, try asking a question that requires a verbal answer. That may break the steeple as the individual would be talking through his or her hands.

There is also a bouncing steeple motion where the fingers are separated and then brought back together. That would usually indicate impatience on the part of the listener, so if you see this, immediately give the other person the floor.

You may have noticed that Donald Trump is often seen using the steepling technique as well as the bouncing steeple to indicate impatience. His gestures are very marked. For example, Donald often sits with his arms crossed. It looks uncomfortable when wearing a suit, but it is how he habitually demonstrates his power. I will discuss arm crossing in a future article.

Some people use the steepling gesture a lot and others rarely use it. When you see it being done, it provides clues into what the other person is thinking. Steepling is rarely seen from a person in a lower status when talking with a superior. If you see this, some form of a coup is likely being attempted. Test to see what may be happening.

Excessive use of steepling will lower the trust between people because it represents a kind of power play. Try to use this gesture sparingly in your relations with others.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language 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 600 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