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 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.”


Gaming the Games

August 5, 2012

I suspect you were outraged when three badminton teams were disqualified from competing in the Olympics after they intentionally lost their matches in order to get a better position in later rounds. After all, the Olympics are supposed to be about sportsmanship, fair play, trust, and honor. It makes an interesting analysis why intelligent young athletes, who have trained countless hours and sacrificed years of time to be the very best in their chosen sport, would risk losing the ability to compete in order to gain an illicit position advantage.

At every Olympics, there are scandals where athletes find some loophole to exploit in their quest to be called the best. The irony is that when they wake up in the morning, they have to live with themselves, knowing the cost of their victory was the very thing that made them losers. How pitiful; they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They tarnish their medals.

The problem is that we give the people who cheat and get caught suspensions, but we give the people who cheat and don’t get caught medals. I am not saying that all athletes cheat; far from it. I honestly believe that the vast majority of participants do play by the rules. It would be interesting if we could ever determine the exact percentage of honest competitors who would rather play the rules and lose than find a way to cheat and win.

One could argue that the people who cheat are from countries who have a political need to always be the best, regardless of the tactics. Their warped sense of supremacy gives the games a political intrigue that is unhealthy, but always present. While national pressures can be one cause for the rot, I believe there are individuals from any country that would game the games if given the opportunity.

I believe the real culprit is the pressure to win, which is ironic because that is the core reason for the Olympics in the first place. Playing by the rules involves making thousands of hard choices over years of time. The burning desire to be called the best drives athletes to walk up to the point of doing inappropriate things but never cross that fine line.

That conundrum appears to be a bigger challenge than to swim faster than any other human being alive. To take advantage of every training aid and legitimate nourishment regime but never go one micrometer beyond is pressure of a different sort. For those athletes who do not compromise their integrity, I think there should be a medal of trust. They have earned it, and when they wake up, they have the joy of knowing they competed at the highest level whether they won or lost. They are the true winners.

We cannot ever tell who cheats just a little bit in some rule of competition. That would be impossible. Rather, we have to rely on the forces within individuals to drive most athletes to take the high road and snatch personal victory from the jaws of defeat.