The Power In Your Hands

Post Three In A Six-Month Series On People Reading

Before this post officially begins, let’s take a quick review of  important points from the previous post:

The most accurate reads are the most basic reads.

 “The big picture never lies unless that is the intent of the subject.”

You already know how to read people.

“We instinctively recognize facial expressions (happiness, sadness, anger ect.,)”

You automatically imitate whatever facial expression you are viewing.

“Some researchers believe that we have a ‘mirror neuron’ that causes us to imitate the facial expressions of the person we are looking at. “

Always consider the obvious!

“Someone may be crossing their arms because they are cold, not because they are comforting themselves or feel defensive.”


Pre-Post Ramble

 I love Glenn Beck. (This is relevent to the post, I promise!)

It was perhaps a year and a half ago when I was watching an episode of Beck’s show on Fox News that I noticed several signature body language signals that he would use during any given episode. One signal in particular he didn’t use often, but it conveyed a very interesting message.

During one of his monologues Beck was sitting on his desk, facing the camera.  Midway through a sentence he suddenly paused and made a joke about a politician. The audience laughed. But instead of showing a body language signal suggesting that he was proud of the response, his smile faded slightly and he sat on his hands before continuing the monologue.

Our hands represent power. Think about the power of a handshake, the honesty represented in an open palm, the negativity behind a hand raised to stop us, the meaning behind a clenched fist. Sitting on his hands after receiving a positive response to the joke seemed to be Beck’s way of shutting down any proud feelings from the response of the crowd.

Post-Ramble Post:

Let’s take a look at a few common signals represented by the hands in body language:

Hands And The Face

Steeple Hands

I used to be a skeptic of the supposed meaning behind steeple hands, and even though Allan Pease (who wrote my favorite book on body language of all time, The Definitive Book of Body Language) has said multiple times in interviews and in his books that steeple hands mean confidence and that the subject feels in control, I doubted it. I didn’t buy it until I was at Starbucks with Heather Madame a couple of years ago and I saw about a dozen men in business attire seated at a table and my ‘spidey sense’ made me feel like one of the men was the leader of the group. I eventually realized that it was because he was using steeple hands in combination with a stern, judgemental expression and the fact that those around him shifted their posture and expressions to match his.

Which just goes to show… never doubt Allan Pease. Ever.

The rest of the signals are a tad complicated, and it’s very important that they not be mixed up.

When it comes to the subject’s hand touching their face, the message changes depending on how much of the hand is placed exactly where, and in combination with general facial signals and body language signals (it may be complicated, but I can assure you it is easier than it sounds.)

Resting Head On Hand

Depending on the subject’s facial expression, this can mean one of two things (it’s always very obvious which one it is)

  1.  If the subject’s facial expression appears bored, the subject is bored.
  2.  If the subject is with someone they enjoy being in the company of (it’s a safe bet that the subject will have romantic feelings for the person they are looking at), they will use this signal as a way of putting their face on display for the other person. This is another signal that I highly doubted the meaning of until I ended up using it one night at work when I was talking to Josh.

Another version of this signal is the picture below:

As well as a another version, where the hands are open, palms facing down with the fingers interlaced.

As I was looking over our next picture, I saw a perfect example of a fake smile. So, while we’re learning about hand gestures, I thought I’d type a note or two onto the picture so you can find out the simple secret to discovering whether a smile is genuine or not:

You should be used to me jumping from one rabbit hole to the next by now, just be happy I haven’t gone on a thousand word rant on my love for Allan Pease.

Back to the hands – take a look at Ben Bernanke’s hand in the above picture. Whenever you see the fingertips touching the subject’s temples or near/on the forehead, this represents a negative emotion. Stress, anxiety, tension and often a negative emotion specifically about the person they are looking at, or the conversation itself.

Touching the forehead almost always signals a strong emotion, but it is not always negative. An open palm to the forehead can mean relief, but it can also represent punishing oneself for lack of foresight. Fingertips kept on the forehead always represent stress.

Hands On Their Own

Before this bit begins, I need to show you a picture of Allan Pease from his television special in the early 80’s:

Allan Pease with his eternally happy eyes, horrid suit and dreadful hair. *Swoon*

There’s no reason for this picture to be here. I just thought it was amusing.

Back to the post!

Folks in politics learn quickly to try to never use the classic finger point when giving a speech, because they will be seen as harsh, and be perceived more negatively by the crowd than they would have if they had used the ‘hand chop’ (hand sideways, fingers straight, lowered onto the podium in a ‘chopping’ motion) or the cupped hand (hand sideways, fingers slightly curved). Anything but pointing at the crowd directly.

Finger-pointing is always seen as a negative signal, and is often used when the subject is accusing someone of something, even if the intent of the subject was simply to drive home a point, the signal will always make the subject appear harsh and judgemental. And the audience will not only view the speaker in a negative light, but they will also retain less information from the speech.

You will appear more open and honest if you express an opinion with upturned palms.


You might have noticed that the hands are not my favorite part of reading people. Or really my favorite signals to study. But I know that anything you have learned here will benefit you, and I’m just relieved to have finally finished this post! Since I missed the original publish date last week, there will be a new PWRP post this Wednesday.

Until I Write Again,


P.S Please shoot me if I ever wait until the night before to write one of these posts! Goodness me I’m never drinking another cup of coffee as long as I live, eight hours and countless mugs filled with coffee and green tea doesn’t do very much to warm one to the act of writing about a topic that one doesn’t like very much to begin with.

P.P.S I just realized that tomorrow is Wednesday, so I will be working on Wednesday’s post tonight… please disregard the first sentence of the post script above…


14 thoughts on “The Power In Your Hands

  1. Okay, this was rather enlightening… and now I am really self-conscious. (As if I wasn’t before?)

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I disagree with the idea of “steeple hands” being a sign of confidence. That tends to be my default if I am entering a topic of conversation or study about which I am completely uncertain. Perhaps this is one of those subconscious but intentional shielding of my own uncertainty. I don’t know.

    Same with fingers on the temples. I tend to do that when I find a conversation fascinating or stimulating. Though, to be fair, my response when observing this in other people is typically to conclude a negative reaction.

    Concerning “framing” one’s face with the hands, I do so quite often, but never realized it until now. So, totally guilty. Now I’m always going to be checking myself. >.>

    I’ve never studied this topic very deeply. But you can be certain that I will do so now. Definitely love this series.

    And don’t worry. No one’s going to blame you for being late, let alone think of shooting you. Rest assured.

      • I admit I was a tad lazy when I was writing, well the entire post 🙂

        I can see the steeple hands meaning you’re thinking if they are touching your face in some way (Hillary Clinton has used this gesture before, as well as ‘The Thinker’ gesture – closed fist under the chin. Also a similar signal of holding one’s chin in between the thumb and pointer finger.) I do hold a certain degree of skepticism when it comes to hand signals, because really the use of hands varies from culture to culture and person to person, alongside the fact that we all have ‘signature’ gestures that only we do. In your case perhaps it is a shielding gesture – Allan Pease explained gestures perfectly when he said that body language is truly a language. It has words, sentences and punctuation, and really any signal should be read in combination with the others. Just like we would never explain an entire page of a book from one word alone.

        And I was also pitifully lazy when it came to the fingers on the temples. I meant the fingers on the temples when the head is resting on the hand (or, commonly, the thumb, like Ben Bernanke). There’s a similar gesture where the head can be resting on the thumb but it looks less harsh because the fingers are curved and the subject’s facial expression shows interest, something that I do an awful lot when I’m reading or listening to a lecture. I suppose it’s just another case of taking every signal into account.

        It’s a good thing to be more aware of yourself! It helps us understand what everyone is seeing when they look at us. Sometimes it’s interesting to just randomly throughout the day stop and analyze what body language signals are being displayed. Like right now, you might be surprised at what you read about yourself.

        I’m glad you enjoy the series, and that you’re expressing your doubts. As I was writing this post I thought it was incredibly dull (but then, that was at five in the morning and all I could think about was finishing it and starting on one of many to-do list items of the day, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, I’m not a fan of my writing – I don’t think I’m a bad writer, I just don’t think I’m a good one, if that makes sense 🙂 ).

        I definitely have a lot to learn when it comes to these posts, especially since I have such difficulty staying on one topic, but hopefully I’ll begin to see improvement. 🙂

        Ah! Your Glenn Beck comment has officially made you my favorite person of the day! 😀

  2. There’s so much more to communication than just talking. That’s one thing that I’ve learned. I know the steeple hands when I see them. 🙂

  3. Now I always perceived steeple hands as someone who was carefully choosing their words or thinking about the conversation or situation.
    How about people who fold their arms? Is that a sign of insecurity? Someone who keeps things private and close to themselves?

    • I’ve thought that exact same thing! Because really when you think about some world leader contemplating his next move you would think of the steeple hands, but I suppose, as I mentioned in reply to Caleb, the answer is in whether the hands are touching the face, as well as the facial expression (contemplative or angry or disgusted).

      Folding the arms (assuming it isn’t just chilly) is what we call a ‘pacifying gesture’ used to comfort oneself by:
      1.Creating a barrier from those around them.
      and 2.’Hugging’ themselves.
      Celebrities, those in politics and in royalty use a different version of the folded arms that make them appear less ‘weak’, typically by needlessly adjusting their sleeves so one hand is always in front of the other, still making a barrier, or, for the women, they hold a purse or other object with both hands in front of them, creating a barrier.
      Folded arms have also been used in arguments when one person has decided to ‘shut out’ the other person because they don’t want to continue the argument.
      A fun fact – it has been proven that if you listen to a speech with your arms crossed, you’ll retain significantly less information than you would have if you had not crossed your arms, and you will also view the speaker in a much more negative light.
      I hope this helped! 😀

      • Wow, that’s very interesting! You are a wealth of knowledge. I’m going to an auction today, it’ll be interesting to apply what I’ve learned here to what I observe. Thank you so much! I’ll report back! Maybe even blog about it!!

  4. Okay, for some reason, there is no “reply” button under your response to my comment, so I have to start a new thread. Unless WordPress is lying to me, and this comment shows up where I wanted it to in the first place.

    One of the biggest mistakes that I see in psychology a lot of the time is someone saying that a particular signal has one interpretation that applies universally; for example, I once had a psychology student say that someone crossing their legs while in conversation always indicates a romantic attachment to the other party. Could it be so sometimes? Certainly. But not always. Which is why I felt the need to point out exceptions. But it was still a fascinating post; I would actually say the most interesting in the series thus far. So please don’t think I’m being challenging or anything.

    One gesture that I have noticed I use frequently (though I haven’t always; this has come up within the last couple months) is my thumb on my temple, and my first two fingers about an inch apart resting on my forehead. I tend to do this when I’m processing new information, but I realized recently that I use different hands depending on what it is I’m trying to understand. I rest on my left if I’m trying to understand something intellectually, and on my right if I’m working emotionally. For some reason, realizations like this please me.

    I completely understand the feelings about your own writing, but I think you already know by now that we all disagree with you. You are an incredible writer. Don’t forget that.

    • I’ve noticed that this WordPress theme doesn’t allow replies after a certain number (it’s maddening!).

      You’ve just described why I dislike Joe Navarro so much (the former FBI agent who wrote ‘What EveryBODY Is Saying’), he makes statements about certain gestures that can mean any number of things if they aren’t read in context with other signals. Body language experts do the same thing when they’re interviewed on the news, I’ve noticed, so people take their word for it and assume there’s nothing else to know. The leg crossing bit seems to be a popular one to mess up on, Joe Navarro claims that it always means that the subject is feeling comfortable and laid-back, and Mac Fulfer, a man who wrote a modern physiognomy book (claiming that certain facial features represent certain personality traits),claims that crossed legs mean that the person is shutting everyone out. I dislike Fulfer, because I’ve seen him in person during one of his classes and, honestly, he’s nothing but a classic con man cold reader who explains someone’s personality by using statistics, like the fact that many people have a box of old photos that they never bothered to organize, or that most men tried learning a certain instrument when they were younger but never found the time to master it. Not to mention the good old fashioned cold reading statements like “There’s a side to you that not many people see.” or “You have trouble letting go of old things.” Statements that can be morphed into being right if they’re wrong.

      Very interesting about the gesture you use – because the left side of the brain is used to process logical problems and to organize parts of a situation, while the right side is used for creative problems and emotions. I noticed that Ryan Stiles (one of the improv actors on Whose Line Is It Anyway) during hoedown (a game where the actors have to come up with a verse based on a random word chosen by an audience member) always touches the right side of his head and shuts his eyes while he’s coming up with his part of the song, I was amused by it because he kind of looked like a psychic.

      I know people seem to like my writing, it’s just confusing because I get bored reading my posts. Thank you 😀

  5. Pingback: MY RELATIONSHIP STRATEGIES PART 20 « Vine and Branch World Ministries

  6. This is truly an awesome post. It conveys many great thoughts and feelings. Thank you for sharing, and do keep up the great work you are doing here.

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