Some academics consider the study of gestures its own field of study, whereas others will include the study of gestures alongside the study of facial expressions into the field of kinesics. Regardless of its categorization, gestures have a huge impact of how we communicate with another person.
To start with, consider your palms. The palms are the most sensitive area of the entire body; there are more connections between your brain and your palms than anywhere else. When we talk we have a natural tendency to make our hands and palms around and make certain gestures to accompany our words.
Often these gestures are more important than the words themselves. Research has shown for example that when people make gestures and their palms are facing upwards, their words feel more fun and friendly than when their palms are facing downwards. Upward facing palms signal invitation and openness whereas downward facing palms are more reminiscent of giving an order or an instruction. Perhaps ironically, people are more likely to accept your ideas if they are feeling friendly towards you, so open palm gestures are the way to go when having a debate or an argument with a peer.
On a related note, avoid pointing when you talk. Research has shown that almost universally pointing is interpreted as rude. Not only does it feel like a command, but it also just inherently condescending. You point where to go when other people have no choice but to follow your orders – pointing presumes undisputed authority and dominance over other people. If for some reason you need to signal a direction, you can use your eye gaze to do so, or use an open palm facing the direction you want people to go.
Above and beyond being rude or cordial, pointing or downward facing palms distract people from what you are saying. People might not understand why, but when you use these gestures, they will get a bad ‘vibe’ from you. Once this feeling is generated, people will focus on judging you or trying to understand this feeling rather than focusing on what you are saying. Your argument will be lost before you have even begun.
Also, consider whether you move your hands towards you as your speak or move your hands away. Moving your hands away from you is almost like your pushing the other person or their ideas away. Moving your hands towards you, by contrast, is inviting, accepting and warm. Larger sweeps of the hand are almost like a hugging motion, suggesting care and the importance of the other person. You can use these motions to present the impression that you agree or accept the other person’s ideas, even if you are verbally disagreeing. This will make the other person more likely to co-operate with what you are saying.
Regardless of whether you are giving an impression of pushing or pulling, moving your hands whilst you talk can show engagement in the conversation. A pushing motion or a palms-down motion might give off bad impressions, but appearing distracted or uninterested in the other person can frequently be just as bad. Allow your hands to flow; you can help foster this habit by ensuring you don’t lock your hands in position by keeping them in your pockets or having your arms crossed (both of which can give out bad signals anyway).
Try and gain awareness over unconscious ticks that might show that you feel anxious or bored. Fidgeting with something with your fingers, scratching your wrist, twirling your hair, even shifting your weight from one leg to another can all display that you are feeling uncomfortable. If you display any of these bored or nervous ticks you will undermine the positive signals that you are trying to display.
Fortunately, you can use the power of your gestures and body language to overcome these nervous ticks. Earlier we mentioned body language doesn’t just display how you feel but also changes the way you feel. Therefore you can try to adopt positive and confident gestures or habits to overcome your nervous ticks – this will not just prevent you from doing these nervous ticks, but they will also change your mood for the better.
For example, one common solution is to press the tips of the fingers together whilst having the finger themselves slightly arched and the palms pressed lightly together. This gesture, or a similar gesture, has long been associated with intelligence, competence and confidence. Repeatedly doing this gesture every time you are feeling nervous can make you feel more capable and in control of the situation. Eventually, you might feel confident and competent the moment you make this gesture.