Hand Gestures
Illustrators (Part 2)

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We finished the first part of illustrators with some aggressive displays  but we're not done just yet. Let's move on to...


Pointing in general is a tool we use to direct, to lead, to show the way or to inform others of danger or point of interest. It's an arrow we use to control the attention of others. But as such, it's often interpreted as condescending, aggressive, and even rude, mainly because we don't really like when others order us around!

There are several ways to use the gesture:

  • Pointing with the index finger can be replaced by pointing with the thumb - which can be perceived even more dominating and controlling.  
  • We can also extend our pointing by using an object -  a pen, a laser stick, or any other lengthy object that will increase the range of our reach. 

    This often gives a "productive" or focused aura to the speaker, it's my guess that's because in our mind he's using a tool at the same time as he speaks - so he must be doing some effective work right...?

So... is it good or bad to use pointers?

It depends... because this can be useful to signify important points or to set a more demanding tone, but do mind it's use since most people won't take it too kindly. If you do use it, make sure you have the authority (either a professional knowledge or hierarchical stand) to back it up.

Waving Finger

Waving the finger is one hand gesture you want to avoid, unless you try to give attitude. It's extremely annoying and condescending -  we all have bad memories of a teacher or parent waving a finger to scold us, so it's no surprise if you find the urge to grab that finger and twist it.

Waving the finger and wobbling the head has become a stigmatic trademark for dominant Latin and Afro-American  women with an attitude in the US.

A playful twist: This hand gestures can be used in flirtatious or humorous approach to tease someone, a kind of a fake scold to get attention or to provoke. "You have been very naughty…" kind of thing.

Taking it to Heart

Another common gesture is to a take a palm (or both) closer to the chest. We touch the area associated with feelings- the heart, to show that we’re truthful and caring.

It’s also a way to show we take full responsibility: "I'm serious, I take this matter close to my heart".

This gesture often used during emotional circumstances, for example:

  • When someone wins an award he chooses this gesture to show gratitude and appreciation towards the audience.
  • It's a common way to display patriotism and respect in the US when hearing the hymn or at a funeral.
  • "I'm SO sorry!"

Not my Problem

Pushing the palms away from the chest is naturally the opposite to the previous gesture and it serves two main goals:

1. It literally pushes away anything that gets too close and sheds any hint of responsibility. The full cluster of actions involves the head turning away (the cut-off) and the hands wave to amplify the message. "No I don't want it, get away"

2. Honesty -  It reveals the palms of the speaker to show that he speaks truth and he got nothing to hide or do with whatever he's asked about.

A good example happens when you ask someone a question in a language he\she doesn't understand. Waving hands and shaking heads tell you to look somewhere else, you won't find our answer here.

"I don't know, leave me alone"


When someone tries to make an argument they usually present both opposite sides, to appear more objective. By carefully looking at their hands you automatically know which side they support.

The hands form a scales, balancing the weight of each argument. People usually start by presenting what they believe the poor argument is by exposing their weaker hand, and then immediately contradict it with the opposing statement (that matches their opinion) by raising their other hand even higher!

If you think about it, that's not how scales work, they should lower their other hand instead of raising it, because that argument is actually "heavier". But laws of physics put aside, it makes sense to raise your hand with the strong statement to show that its value is actually "higher".

Exposing Palms

Exposing palms is one of the best and most universally recognizable hand gestures we have. It serves many purposes and it's actually a part of many other gesture clusters , such as the palms-away-from-chest that I mentioned or the universal symbol for keys:

I elaborate more in depth here, but I mention this because it's a good idea to look for signals that expose palms or hide them - they often tell us how open and honest someone feels towards us.

Make it a habit to look for palms as it really can set the tone to your interactions. If you want to be more open and honest with others don't be afraid to show your palms, and in return they will have an easier time to open up themselves to you.

The drawback is that it might make you look as you if try to appease too much or to get approval and attention. Just like a beggar reaching out with his hand, you feel sorry and sympathetic towards him, but you don't consider him as someone with confidence and power, right? So a good balance is often required - you want others to trust and like you, but not at the expense of your self-respect.

What's Next?

Next we continue with Affect Displays - hand gestures that are all about emotions!

Hand Gestures - Basics

Emblems (Part 1 | Part 2)

Illustrators (Part 1 | Part 2)

Affect Displays (Part 1 | Part 2)

Regulators (Part 1 | Part 2)


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