In many languages the word “hands” is used to express much more than a body part. Think about it: In English we say things like
- “Mike has the upper hand in their relationship”, meaning he is in a position of advantage, power and control.
- “She is hands down the best teacher in the school”, meaning she is easily the best.
- “Don’t show your hand if you want to succeed”, meaning if you want to succeed, don’t reveal your plans.
- “An offhand remark”, meaning a remark given without much thought or preparation.
In most cultures, an open hand is associated with honesty. Throughout history, a palm held over the heart or in the air when given a testimony or an oath was meant to emphasize the truthfulness. Arabs, Malaysians and Indonesians have a habit of holding their hands over the heart when they greet each other as if to show their sincere happiness. For some reason, it is really difficult to lie with your palms exposed, and that brings us to a whole new exciting topic: Hand gestures in body language.
How to get people believe you
When we are accused of something we didn’t do, we tend to get all emotional and say things like “I didn’t do it”, “I wasn’t there”, “I have no idea!” At the moments like this, you are likely to expose your palms as if to show you aren’t hiding anything. Another person will get an intuitive feeling that you must be telling the truth.
On the other hand, be alert when someone is telling you something important with his hands in his pockets or hidden behind his back. Hidden palms certainly don’t make things more believable even when they are true. This, of course, may not apply in certain situations, but the more intense the situation, the more important the issue at hand, the more likely is the person to lie or hold back some important information.
Another important thing to know is that many women prefer to look busy when lying. They will either compulsively clean and rearrange things or constantly try to talk about unrelated subjects in order to distract you. Here is a lot more signs of lying in body language.
Palms up, palms down
The way you use your palms while talking to others might significantly alter other people’s perception of you. Make a simple request with your palms facing up, and people will feel you are asking for a favor. They will not feel bothered by your request, nor they will feel threatened or pressured. But if you make the same request with your palms facing down, it will feel more like an order rather a simple request.
Like with everything else in body language, cultural differences are possible. For example, classic Western come-here gesture (arm extended while waving toward yourself with your palm up) would be seen as degrading in South Korea. In fact, in South Korea you actually have to raise your arm and do the “come-here” gesture with your palm down while waving toward yourself.
A handshake might not only set the tone of any business or political meeting but also affect its outcome. When two equal people shake hands, their hands will remain vertical with each hand looking like a mirror reflection of the other hand.
But if one person’s palm faces upward, it might be perceived as a symbolic surrender where that person accepts other person’s superiority and dominance.
Similarly, many successful executives and aggressive politicians tend to use a dominant style while shaking hands. Be that consciously or subconsciously, their hands always end up on the top unless, of course, the other person doesn’t accept their dominance and engages with them in a symbolic power struggle. In this case, both hands will remain vertical like in an “equal” handshake.
But what do you do when someone imposes their dominance on you during the handshake? An easy way to deal with this is to put your left hand over their right hand forming a double-hand handshake. That will definitely create a power switch but may also annoy the other person; use it only when you absolutely need to.
It’s important to note that double-hand handshake is not always negative; when given by a close friend, it communicates warmth and openness, just like a hug. In many Arab countries a stranger may give you a double-hand handshake without trying to intimidate you. If you are a friend of their friend, they could give you a double-hand handshake as if they were to say, “You are just like my other [close] friend to me.”
A lot more can be said about handshake styles, but if you want to give a good and friendly handshake, make sure that both hands stay in a vertical position and apply no more pressure than the other person.
Rubbing the hands together
In most cultures, rubbing the hands together would mean excitement and anticipation of something good to happen. That is, of course, unless it’s cold. The speed of rubbing may convey the level of excitement or how soon good things are expected to happen — the quicker, the sooner. The key word here was “in most cultures”, because in South America rubbing the hands implies that two women are homosexual.
Money or heart?
Thumb and finger rub is commonly associated with money, as if you were to say, “Give me the money!” Having said that, the gesture is considered impolite despite its wide recognition.
The same gesture without rubbing would mean “heart” in South Korea, as if you were to say, “I love you.”
Depending on situation, hands clasped or clenched together may mean several things. It may mean that a person using it is about to assume a strong stance; it may mean confidence or even nervousness. There is one interesting point noted by body language experts Alan and Barbara Pease who co-authored fifteen books on body language: The height at which the hands are held reveals the degree of the person’s frustration. If the person holds her hands clenched and fingers intertwined in front of the face while sitting, she might be really difficult to deal with. Offer her a drink or ask her to hold something to unlock her hands — she is likely to become much more open to what you have to say.
The steeple hands
The steeple hands gesture where the hands form an upward-pointing V conveys a confident and self-assured attitude. Although it is often used by superiors, the person using it is not necessarily trying to dominate you. They are just feeling smart, confident and like they know what they are doing.
Hands behind the back
Walking or standing with hands behind the back where one hand holds the other helps you look more authoritative and in control. Using this gesture in high-stress situation should help you feel more confident. On the other hand, hands hidden behind your back don’t make things more believable (see above), so you may want to avoid it when it’s important that others believe what you are saying.
More on hands:
- Japanese Love and Personality Test (hand analysis based on digit ratio theory)
- Holding Hands in Body Language