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Hand body language


ETechniques > Use of body language > Parts-of-the-body language > Hand body language

Holding | Control | Greeting | Shaping | Cutting | Striking | Covering | Giving | Asking | Rubbing | Thinking | Supporting | Hiding | Touching | Preening | WeighingSee also


Hands have 27 bones and are a very expressive part of our anatomy. The give us enormous capability as an evolved species in how we handle our environment.

Reading palms is not just about the lines on your hand. After the face, hands probably the richest source of body language.

It is also worth noting that gestures with the hands vary significantly across cultures and an 'innocent' hand signal can get you arrested in another country.

A hand signal may be small, perhaps betraying subconscious thinking. It may also be exaggerated or done with both hands to emphasize the point.


Cupped hands form a container which can hold gently. Gripping hands can hold tightly. Hands can hold both individually or together (giving an exaggerated effect).

Cupped hands can symbolize delicacy or hold a fragile idea. They may also be used for giving. Gripping can show possessiveness, ownership and desire (the tighter the fist, the stronger the feeling).

Hands may also hold the self, such as when people hold their own hands, typically for comfort. Wringing the hands indicates more extreme nervousness.

Holding the self can also be an act of restraint. This can be to let the other person talk. It can also be used when the person is angry, effectively stopping them from attacking.

The tightness of a holding group indicates the degree of tension the person feels. Folded arms can be relaxed, but if the hands hold the opposite arm it becomes more restraining.

Holding hands behind the back opens the front and can show confidence. It may also conceal hands that display tension. When one hand holds the other arm, the higher the hold and tighter the grip, the greater the tension.

The two hands can show different desires, for example with one forming a fist and the other holding it back, restraining the desire to punch the other person.

Note also that people who are lying often try to control their hands, and when they are kept still (often holding one another), you might get suspicious. Another sign can be holding them behind the back. As ever, these are only possible indicators and you should also look for similar signs.

Hands may also be used to hold items such as pens or cups, which may be used as comfort objects, for example where a person hugs a cup (the cup represents the person, so they are effectively hugging themself). Holding an item with two hands effectively creates a closed position.

Holding imaginary objects as they are talked about can show importance. Things which are important (and perhaps with fear of loss) are held close and tight. Things which are not wanted are held further away (or even tossed away).

Even ideas may be held. The bigger and more important the idea, the wider the arms are held. A common size is as if they are holding a basketball -- this is useful as you can give it to other people. A wide-armed hold may indicate the whole world or something massive.

Items may also be for distracting activity that releases nervous energy, such as fiddling with a pen, clicking it on and off, or doodling with it.

When hands are clenched together in front of the person, perhaps in a relaxed way, the thumbs moving upwards can indicate pleasure at a nice surprise.


A hand with palm down may figuratively hold or restrain the other person. This  can be an authoritative action ('Stop that now') or may be a request ('Please calm down'). This also appears in the dominant hand-on-top handshake. Palms down, leaning on a desk is usually dominant ('I'm in charge').

A palm facing outward towards others fends them off or pushes them away in a more obvious way than the palms-down signal ('Stop. Do not come any closer!').

A pointing finger or whole hand tells a person where to go ('Leave now!').


Hands are often used in greetings. The most common form of greeting is shaking hands, of which there are many different forms. Opening the palm shows that there is no concealed weapon. This is significant in greeting, salutes, waves etc.

This is one of the few times we are allowed to touch the other person and it may get used to send various signals.

Dominance is shown with hand on top, strength, prolonged holding ('I decide when to let go') and holding the person with the other hand.

Affection is shown with speed and duration of shake, touching with the other hand and enthusiastic smiles. The similarity between dominant and affection handshakes leads to tricky situations where a dominant person pretends to be friendly.

Submission is shown with a floppy hand, palm up and which is sometimes clammy and with a quick withdrawal.

Most handshakes use vertical palms to show equality, are firm without being crushing and for a very exact period (so both know when to let go).

Waving is also used for a greeting and may be done at a distance.

Salutes are sometimes used, but mostly only in the military, where their style is strictly prescribed.


Hands can carve the air, shaping what the person is talking about or meaning. They can thus create visual metaphors out of literally nothing.

A man talking may shape a fish he caught. He might also carve out the shape of his ideal woman. Other gestures can shape more crudely, indicating holding and moving sexually significant body parts.


The side of a flat hand can appear as a knife, cutting the air like a karate chop. The cutting hand may strike the other palm, creating visual and aural impact.

A side-swiped cut with palm down tells others to stop what they are doing, for example when a person on stage asks the audience to stop clapping so they can speak. A short side swipe may also signal 'no' in any conversation.

Cuts can signal aggression, particularly when coupled with an aggressive face. They may also indicate decisiveness, chopping with each point. A side-swiped cut can chop away someone else's argument.


The hand can strike openly, with the palm or closed as a fist. The fist can strike forwards, sideways or downwards. One hand is often used for symbols as two hands as fists can be an invitation to fight (two hands held inwards can also indicate extreme tension).

Fist shapes and movements are often symbols of inner aggression. When moved towards a person, even a small amount, they signal aggression towards that person. A shaking fist signifies a strong desire to strike someone. Punching the air indicates triumphal excitement.


Hands can hide things. When people do not want to hear something, they put hands to ears. When they do not want to look, they cover their eyes. When they want to say something but feel restrained, they put their hands to their mouth. A hand may also cover a rudely open mouth, which may be opened in such as surprise or a yawn.

Hands covering the mouth when speaking may be an indicator of lying, although it may also just indicate uncertainty. Hands at the mouth can also cover the neck, where blushing, swallowing and tension may be seen. This move also controls the hands, preventing them from offering other clues (which is why you often see card gamblers using this pose).

Hands can cover other things. A hand to heart may seek to protect it from shocking harm. A hand to the groin may protect from dangerous attack. Hands can also cover one another. Sometimes a tense fist may be covered by the other hand.


Outstretched palms may offer something to another person. Held with palms faced towards one another they might hold something large. Held upwards they openly proffer an idea.

They may also show that nothing is being concealed, giving what I have, which is nothing.

A single offered hand is the start of the handshake.


Palms offered upwards are a common plea gesture, as if asking for alms. Palms downwards may ask a person to calm down.

Palms up or at 45 degrees and then pulled towards the body seeks to bring others closer to you in an attenuated beckoning gesture.

Hands with palms pressed together indicate a more anxious pleading. This gesture may be done with fingers upwards in a clear prayer position ('Please do not harm me!'), and possibly thrust towards the other person. With fingers pointing down, this may be more concealed or a less anxious desire for agreement. A variant of this is to have fingers interleaved, but otherwise making the same shape and movement.


Rubbing the hands together can mean that the person is cold. It also means the person is feeling particularly gleeful about something. This can be a shared benefit and be used in a conspiratorial way.

When they do this less obviously and more slowly, they might thinking that they are going to benefit at the expense of someone else. Watch also for small smiles and defocused eyes as they imagine a rosy future (at least for them).

Massaging hands together, especially when the hands are quite tense, is usually an indicator of stress or anxiety.

Rubbing the face and particularly the chin can indicate thinking, evaluating and deciding.

When a part of the body is sore, the person may rub it. This also happens when that part of the body is tense, for example the neck or abdomen, and can thus be a signal of anxiety.

Light stroking of the body can be a romantic invitation, particularly if the erogenous areas (or nearby) are touched. This says 'I would like you to do this' and can be very arousing.


When the fingers are pressed together forming a steepled shape, pointing upwards, the person may well be thinking, evaluating or deciding. This may also be done with just index fingers pressed together and other fingers interlinked ('the church'), with all finger-tips touching ('the cage') or with fingers interlinked.

Steepling can indicate confidence and a sense of superiority over others. It hence can say 'I know something that you do not know.'

When the hands are pressed together more, the person is feeling more tension and may be hoping for something ('praying'). The face may give more clues about what they are thinking and feeling.

The steepled position forms a barrier against the other person and may be held lower when the person wants to connect more, such as when they are listening.

A subtler version of the evaluative position is with the hand supporting the head but with the index finger up the side the of the face. The middle finger may cover the mouth ('I'm not ready to talk yet').

These fingers-up positions may include touching of the mouth or chin with the fingers, which may indicate the person is thinking about saying something but is not yet ready to speak out loud.

The fingers may also be all intertwined and typically held under the chin. Again, this is a thinking and evaluating signal.

Hands clenched can be a self-restraining act, effectively holding the person back from speaking until they are ready.


Hands may be used to support the head or even the body when leaning.

Hands wrapped around the cheeks with elbows on the table indicates a heavy head and the person may be sleepy or bored. This may also be indicated with a single hand propping up the chin or side of the head.

The hands may also lightly support the head, either as a single hand gently under the chin or with fingers intertwined with elbows on table and chin touching the fingers. Particularly when looking at the other person, this says 'look at my face, isn't it nice' and may thus be an enticing position.

A lightly supported head may also be a position of listening, where the person is holding their head still in order to focus on the other person.

A simple rule is that the more that the head is supported, the more the person is bored. When they are interested in what others are saying, support is light.


Hands may be hidden by putting them behind the back, in pockets, under the table or sitting on them. They are often used in communication and hiding the hands may indicate a desire not to communicate or not to collaborate, saying 'I don't want to talk with you' or 'I do not agree with you'.

This may be done in a deliberate gesture of defiance, such as stuffing hands in pockets. Liars may hide their hands in fear that they will give themselves away.

Hiding hands may also be a position of listening, sending the message 'I do not want to talk because I want to listen to you.' 

Putting hands in pockets or behind the back can also be due to just feeling relaxed and not needing to talk.


The hand may touch any part of the body in a whole range of situation.

Perhaps the most common reason for touching oneself is self-affirmation ('I am here. I am real. I am ok.') and related anxiety. Anxiety can be related to concern for the outer world or the inner world of thoughts and forecasts.

Touching is also used in romantic situations, where parts of the body may be lightly touched or stroked in simulation of desired or suggested action by the other person. The more erotic the parts being touched, the stronger the signal is sent.

Touching can also be a form of punishment, for example when a person slaps their head ('Bother - I forgot!').

Touching the other person can be an act of domination or of friendship, for example a hand on the shoulder whilst telling them off adds authority, whilst a gentle touch on the arm when sympathizing demonstrates concern for them.


Preening is a common action as the person brushes their hair and clothes, figuratively making themselves look more attractive and sending the signal 'Aren't I beautiful!' This is thus says 'Please like me' and may be a romantic invitation, a signal of superiority or indicate feelings of vulnerability.

Picking at bits of fluff clothes often shows disapproval as the person figuratively picks apart your argument.


Cupped hands may be used to indicate weight, which often is used as a metaphor for importance.

Single-handed weighting bounces the cupped hand up and down, for example when an argument is being proposed.

Two hands are used to indicate discussion of A vs. B. Watch which hands seems to hold the heavier weight -- this will be the one which the person thinks is most significant.


When a person's hands tremble, they may be very frightened or very excited. The hands are at the end of the arms and usually have fine control. Dropping things likewise can show a loss of that control.

There are also some illnesses where


Not body language as such, but the length of the index finger compared with the length of the ring finger is related to masculinity. High levels of testosterone in the womb lead to a longer ring finger. Testosterone is also related to other masculine characteristics, including strength and aggression, spatial and musical ability.

By looking for long and short ring fingers (as compared with the index fingers), you might hence find a tendency towards masculine or feminine characteristics.

See also

Finger body language, Using Body Language

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