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January 20, 2012 at 5:30 PMComments: 7 Faves: 2

8 Things You Can Tell Just By Watching Hands

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series

Communication is about much more than what you actually SAY. We communicate through our clothes and personal belongings. We communicate through our preferences. We even, as previously discussed, communicate through our smell. But this week, let's talk hands.

These days, there are more ways than ever for people to communicate. We communicate through social networks, instant message, email, phone, texting, and good old fashioned one-on-one discussion. But before we ever spoke, we used our bodies to communicate, and today we still do -  our hands are a big part of that.

Compared with the rest of our body, our brain pays an enormous amount of attention to our fingers and hands, and in fact, studies have confirmed this. In one experiment, researchers held a conversation with test subjects that was completely normal except for one thing, they hid their hands during the entire conversation. While the test subjects may not have seen a researcher's hands, they sensed something was wrong.

In an experiment involving the court system, attorneys and witnesses who hid their hands were seen as less honest than those who didn't. It's amazing what we can pick up when we learn to watch hands.

Here are just some of the things our hands are saying:

#1. Who We Are

Even before we do anything with our hands, they communicate with their appearance. Like our clothes and hairstyle, the way we care for our hands can reveal both how much we care for ourselves and how much we care for social conventions. Caring for your hands is a simple way to make a positive impression. Are your hands clean or filthy? Dry or moisturized? Are they scarred? Are the nails manicured or dirty? Men with long nails may be viewed as strange or effeminate. Nails that have been chewed communicate their owner's stress and insecurity. Someone with a hand full of rings or tattoos may find others don't take them seriously. No matter what pains you take to present a picture-perfect appearance, how you behave with your hands can still reveal what's really going on. See if you can spot any of these behaviors in yourself or in those around you:

#2. Signs of Anxiety

  • A relaxed individual has hands that are warm and flexible, while an anxious person's hands tend to be cold and rigid.
  • A comfortable person holds their fingers apart. As we become less secure, the space between our fingers closes, and when very stressed, we will even tuck thumbs under fingers.
  • Stressed people may rub their hands together as a way of comforting themselves: the more stressed, the more vigorous the rubbing. Rubbing with fingers stretched out and interlaced is a behavior usually reserved for the worst situations.
  • When people are feeling unsure of themselves, they will often touch themselves in affirmation. Rubbing the neck or stomach reveals anxiety.
  • Fiddling with objects (like clicking a pen) is a way to distract from and release nervous energy.
  • Holding items is often used to self-soothe. When a person physically puts both hands around a mug in a cupping position, subconsciously, they are hugging themselves.

#3. Signs of Boredom

  • Someone who places elbows on the table and wraps hand(s) around their cheek(s) suggests they are either sleepy or bored. The more support their hands provide, the more likely this is true. Light support suggests that they may be tired, but they are interested in the conversation.
  • Drumming the fingers is a signal to the other person that the drummer is feeling tense or frustrated, oftentimes because they would like to finish the conversation. The louder and faster the drumming is, the more urgent the message.
  • Inspecting nails is an indicator of boredom.

#4. Signs of Contemplation

  • Fingers that form a steeple shape indicate a person that is contemplating and deciding.
  • Rubbing the face, especially the chin, reveals a person is deep in thought.
  • Holding imaginary objects during a conversation reveals its importance to the person talking. Ideas of value are physically held close and tight. Contrary, unwanted ideas are held or tossed far away. When an idea is being "held," you may understand its importance by the imaginary size. A normal size is a basketball. Bigger concepts such as the whole world are held by wider-reaching hands.
  • A person who holds themselves or clenches their hands maybe restraining an urge. Often the urge is to talk, but sometimes it is to attack.
  • Drumming can indicate a person is thinking but frustrated, trying to find a solution.
  • A person may touch a finger to their mouth or chin when they are thinking about saying something but aren't ready to speak yet.
  • A person may put their hands behind their back or in their pockets, when they are feeling relaxed and don't need to talk.

#5. Signs of Attraction and Affection

  • Someone who fixes their clothes and runs their fingers through their hair is subconsciously trying to improve their appearance. The act says, "Aren't I beautiful? Please like me." It may also reveal insecurity.
  • When looking at another person, hand(s) that lightly support the chin say, "Look at my face. Isn't it nice?"
  • Light stroking can be a signal of attraction, especially if erogenous areas are touched. It says, "I want you to do this."
  • The way we touch others may reveal our feelings about them. A full touch with the palm of the hand is the most affectionate; touching with fingertips reveals less affection. A gentle touch of the arm demonstrates concern and sympathy.
  • An attentive listener may hide their hands, saying, "I don't want to talk, I'm listening to what you have to say."
  • Steepled hands will be lowered the more you want to connect with the other.

#6. Signs of Confidence

  • A confident person will raise their thumbs as they speak, especially with fingers intertwined in front of them. The more they do, the more confident they feel.
  • Spacing between the fingers grows wider when a person is feeling confident.
  • Steepling fingers says the speaker feels strongly about what they are saying, and it demonstrates their confidence. It also creates a barrier - the higher the steeple, the stronger the barrier; the lower the steeple, the more connection is desired.
  • Thumbs sticking out of pockets are sign of relaxation, confidence, control, and friendliness.

#7. Signs of Aggression

  • A hand on the recipients shoulder adds authority when they're being told off.
  • Hiding hands might say "I don't want to talk with you; I disagree with what you're saying." Stuffing hands in pockets may be done to demonstrate defiance.
  • Holding one's own hands can act as a subconscious restraint when a person has the urge to lash out in anger. The two hands may show a conflicted desire, one may be forming a fist, while the other holds it back.
  • Angry people tend to point more, both at themselves to demonstrate their feelings of hurt and at the target they are blaming. For this reason, it's better to direct people with your whole hand rather than pointing.
  • Picking bits of lint off your clothes may indicate disapproval.

#8. Signs of Dishonesty

  • When someone is lying, they will often hide their hands. As mentioned before, this is a subconscious signal that they don't want to talk as well as an attempt to avoid giving themselves away.
  • Covering the mouth with a hand may indicate a lie is being told, or it may just be uncertainty.


Changing Minds: Hand Body Language

Changing Minds: Finer Body Language

Photo Credits:


king of the wild frontier@flickr

wajakemek | rashdanothman@flickr


jay morrison@flickr


Jeremy Brooks@flickr


More from Erin Froehlich Others Are Reading


  • Thanks, John! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Wow! I never knew there were so many things about hands that revealed STUFF!

  • *nod nod*

  • Both my husband and I are VERY expressive with our hands when we talk. Not sure if that means we are kinda spazzy or not... ;) lol

  • This was an awesome read! I want to memorize this list.

  • Aww. Thanks, K! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

  • interesting blog, I never knew nor noticed this much about people's hands. I will have to keep an eye on peoples hands in a meeting to see whats going on!

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