Everyone’s heard the age old adage - ‘your eyes are a window into your soul’. Now, while I have a lot to say about eye contact and other eye-related nonverbal cues, today, I have a lot to say about hands, how they define us and can often act as a veritable window into our souls.
From an evolutionary perspective, human hands define our primate species. Since the first grade, we have been taught that our opposable thumbs are a key factor in our evolution into such a dominant position among other, much larger, mammals. Thank you thumbs!
When it comes to our hands however, our abilities range much farther than grasping an object and being able to touch our thumbs to each individual finger (the very definition of an opposable thumb). Our hands are a core part of our expression and represent a vehicle of communication between all humans.
In the world of ballet, we spend hours and hours, perfecting the articulation of our hands and fingers so that we can express a range of emotions through this single body part. American Sign Language is an example of an exceptionally robust vernacular expressed solely through human hands.
Though most people are not using their hands to express complex emotions to others with such intention, most people could use a dose of awareness when it comes to this expressive part of our body.
Let’s explore some of the ways our hands are communicating with those around us.
Signs of discomfort - we’ve all seen it on others, the wringing of hands, fiddling with the nails, a ring or bracelet, rubbing the hands together, jiggling keys. These are all signs of underlying stress because they act, as nonverbal expert Joe Navarro says, as pacifying behaviors. Most of the time, a behavior like this will become engrained to the point where even the slightest whiff of anxiety or stress will set off a fury of hand wringing and wriggling. See if you can become aware of your hand habits when under stress…you will want to rein these in to ensure you are not giving away any signs of anxiety during moments of pressure.
Signs of comfort - when someone is at rest and fully comfortable, hands tend to lie still. They might rest lightly on an arm chair, table or on the hips. In our fast-paced world today, it is rare to see hands that are ‘idle’, unless you catch someone experiencing a moment of calm and comfort.
Signs of confidence - similar to the way we react when we feel like we have ownership over a certain situation or experience, our hands will ‘take up more space’ when we are feeling confident. This is where hand postures like the classic (and often blatantly overused by politicians) ‘hand-steepling’ come from. You might also notice that when someone gets excited about something, their hands will come up and move around more so than if they are feeling less confident or excited about what they are sharing/experiencing.
Open/closed hand gestures - In demonstrations of good will, we tend to offer out our palms. This is a display of genuine honesty and openness. Hand gestures of this sort can help you identify someone’s authenticity in a situation. Conversely, closed hand gestures, like tight fists, hands in pockets or even sitting on one’s own hands can send the opposite message - that perhaps this person is not fully committed to what they are saying/experiencing.
Hand hygiene - People look to your hands to determine if you take care of yourself. This is really important. Hand hygiene is a big one when it comes to interviews…and dating. , if you are generally healthy and active. Take care of your hands and don’t think that because they are far away from your face, they don’t matter.
As a general rule of thumb, (no pun intended!) our hands can amplify our message in a way that is truly powerful. They can also become culprits of what we call ‘nonverbal leakage’. Becoming more aware of your hand habits will be the first way to decide which habits are serving you, and which may be sending a counterproductive message to those you are communicating with.
If you are interested in understanding your own hand habits better or have a question about a hand posture/expression you observe ‘in the wild’, reach out and let me know:)