The hands are second only to the face in their ability to send nonverbal messages to others. They’re certainly used more for this purpose than any other part of the body. People almost always move their hands unconsciously when they’re talking. These movements help put emphasis on different words, and clearly reveal the person’s feelings. Even people who were born blind use their hands to help them talk.

The hands are also used to help people calm down when they’re anxious or stressed. Touching any part of the body can be calming, but most people stroke, rub, or touch the face or neck. As excessive hand movement can be a sign of anxiety, you may want to think about what to do with your hands in that particular situation. You might decide to place your hands on your lap, either separate or interlocked, if you’re sitting, and by your sides if you’re standing.

The Palms

When the palms are exposed and facing upward, the person is sending out a message of honesty and openness. It can also be a pleading gesture.

When the palms face downward, the person is expressing dominance and a desire to control. A parent telling children to quiet down is likely to use this gesture, with the hands moving slightly upward and downward. When the hands are held parallel with the palms facing each other and the fingers open, the person is feeling confident and in control.

Palms facing forward is the international sign for “stop.” Speakers use it when informing a talkative audience that it’s time to pay attention. School teachers use it all the time. It can also be used in conversation when the speaker wants to finish what he or she has to say. In this case, it tells the other person to hear him out, and wait his turn.

A friend of mine rubs his palms together whenever he hears something that excites or motivates him. Palms sweat only when the person is suffering from stress. On a hot summer’s day, other parts of the body will sweat, but the palms will remain dry. When someone becomes anxious, their palms will gradually become damp, and this will steadily increase until the anxiety passes. I’ve seen people with small puddles of water in the center of their palms, caused by anxiety and stress.

Steepled Fingers

When all the fingers of one hand touch the same fingers on the other hand, you create what is known as a steeple. It’s a sign of confidence, authority, control, and power. It shows that the person feels totally at ease, and is confident in the thoughts he or she is expressing. However, it can be considered arrogant, and should be used sparingly. If the person steeples his or her fingers while you’re talking, it’s a sign that he or she is thinking carefully about what you’re saying. Although you’re talking, this person still feels he or she is in control.

Thumbs Up

The thumbs-up gesture is a sign that everything’s fine, or that the person it is being shown to has done well. It also means “okay.” Bill Clinton uses the thumbs-up gesture frequently. In most of the Western world, hitchhikers use this gesture to get a ride. However, this gesture is considered rude in Nigeria, and you could be assaulted if you used it there.1

Thumb Pointing

Pointing at someone with your thumb is usually a sign of contempt and lack of respect. It can be used to ridicule someone. Women, in particular, tend to dislike this gesture.

Hand Chop

When the side of the person’s dominant hand hits the palm of the other hand in a chopping motion, he or she is emphasizing a point strongly. It is usually used when the person is defending his or her position. In extreme cases, the chopping movement is used to emphasize each word. The chop is often seen as an aggressive action, and should be used sparingly, if at all.

Finger Point

Pointing your index finger at someone is usually considered rude and offensive. It normally occurs when someone wants to assert his or her authority or control. A gentler way of pointing is to use the whole hand, in either a vertical or palm-up position.

The finger point can be a useful gesture when it’s aimed away from the other person. It can be used to mark off the different points the speaker is making, and helps to maintain interest. If you’re going through a contract with someone, you might point at each clause in turn to emphasize them.

One-Finger Salute

The “finger” or “one-finger salute” has been used as an insulting gesture for at least two thousand years. The ancient Romans called it digitus impudicus, which means “impudent digit.” In the West, the middle finger points upward, symbolizing a phallus. The other fingers are held down, and the back of the fist faces the other person. The upraised finger can be displayed motionless, or alternatively jerked sharply upward.

In other parts of the world, variations of “the finger” can be seen. In the Middle East, the hand is held palm downward, parallel to the ground. The fingers are splayed and the middle finger points downward. In Brazil, the entire forearm acts as the phallus. It is jerked upward to give a powerful insult known as “the banana.”

The Fig Leaf

This isn't what you might think. Especially if SEO Leeds is your intention for marketing purposes. The fig leaf occurs when the hands are folded over each other and are held in front of the lower body. In men it looks as if they’re protecting their genitals. Women also use this gesture at times. It’s a protective gesture that shows the person is feeling vulnerable, insecure, or apprehensive. It’s a sign of emotional pain. This gesture can also be made by holding something else in front of the lower body, such as a briefcase or handbag.

When I was a teenager, a girl who lived nearby always held her schoolbag, or something else, in this position. Although, at the time, I had no idea what the gesture meant, I was fascinated by her posture, as every time I saw her she was holding something in the fig leaf position. I hope she managed to overcome her adolescent fears.

Hands Behind the Back

The Duke of Edinburgh usually holds his hands behind his back when he’s out in public. This gesture signifies dominance, and tells other people to keep their distance. When I was in high school, several teachers used to walk around the playground with their hands held behind their backs. As well as dominance, this can also be a sign that the person is thinking about something and doesn’t want to be interrupted.