We arrive to the second type of gestures - illustrators.
True to their namesake, these gestures provide a visual image to what we try to say verbally. While they're not entirely replace words like emblems do, they do make sense when they're added to the verbal mix. Think about them as spices, you don't have to add them, but it's way better with them.
We use illustrators all the time, pretty much unaware, especially when we try to describe an object to someone who's unfamiliar with it - we instantly find ourselves making figures of how it looks (and perhaps used) to make it clearer. Because showing how something is done is often much more effective and easier than describing it in words.
So illustrators are not essential for us to understand each other, but they are a big help when it comes to put an emphasis or to add a visual picture. In fact, studies show that hand gestures help us learn faster and enhance our retention.
Let's see how “waving our hands around” affect the perception of others about us:
First, we need to understand that contrary to emblems, these hand gestures are less self aware. They're not completely subconscious because we still aware to the fact that we make them, but if we're used to it, they flow naturally - they don't require effort or thought.
But how much should I use them?
It really depends on the culture you're from and the local customs (if you’re traveling) but keep in mind that:
1. Gesturing too much may give the impression that you're impulsive and not entirely in control of your actions, what might not be the best image if discretion and cool-headed attitude is required.
2. Gesticulate too little and you come across as cold and distant person. Some may take this lack of (e)motions as a signal that you don’t care enough to really communicate with them. They will become less enthusiastic and uncomfortable with your lack of feedback and "signs of life".
A good balance is always a good idea
Illustrators also help us convey how we feel towards what we say, and if it's sincere (i.e. actions match words) - we increase our credibility as good and honest speakers.
But when we say something and gesture something else, we create incongruity. If I say something is big and gesture that it’s actually small, or say "I honestly believe you" but put a hand over my mouth - I create two opposite layers of information.
In such contradictory instances the body is usually the one who tells the truth. It's very hard to fake hand gestures because it requires full concentration and control of your actions and words at the same time. A good liar will either practice the motions and ‘feel’ of the lie, not just the words - just like an actor playing a role would OR he’ll use as little actions as possible to avoid giving himself away.
Alright, let’s see some examples:
Hold the index finger with the thumb to create a small circle (the "OK gesture"). This hand gesture automatically creates an concrete, sharp and delicate flavor to your words. It's as if you choose your words very carefully and intentionally, like holding them between your thumb and index finger and moving them around. This was a trademark gesture of a true master in body language - Bill Clinton.
precision grip is the new favorite of many politicians to make their point
during a speech since it serves the same purpose as pointing with the index
finger but the psychological effect on the viewers is much less aggressive and
therefore received more positively.
I mentioned in the previous part that the thumb is a signal of dominance and superiority, but when it's presented in this sophisticated form it looks less "threatening" and therefore the message is softer and more pleasant for the audience. So, say you need to deliver a presentation, the precision grip might be the right tool for the job if you need to make a point, just use it instead of pointing.
Chopping motions usually portray aggressive and assertive attitude – you have strong feelings about the subject and you mean business.
Cutting motions with one hand landing in the palm of the other usually emphasize the words in timing with the "chop".
e.g. when saying something like I-WILL-NOT-ACCEPT-SUCH-BEHAVIOR! The chopping motion will land with each word (or every other word) to bolster your message with authority and leave no room for argument.
Cutting motion with the hand horizontally to the side says – "NO. No way."
In general remember that showing knuckles, be it in the cutting gesture or other displays is an aggressive and authoritative act because it reminds the fist, but it's still better to use such displays than go for the full fist-slams-table kind of thing. Adopt these hand gestures only when you really feel the need to. Otherwise you will be perceived as closed minded and uncompromising person.