Palm Positions

Homepage - Gestures - Palm Gestures

Today we're going to read palms...
No, not the palmistry way, but we'll get fascinating conclusions in the end nonetheless.

Palm gestures can be quite confusing…. we use them a lot on daily basis but we hardly think about what are we doing or why.

  • Is it better to give command with the palm up or down?
  • Or is it even better with a closed fist?
  • What about pointing? Good to clarify your point or just plain rude?
  • Do you think about these things when you use your palms?

So, let's take a little closer look at our palms, I will start with the basic 3 palm positions you can form: palms up, palms down and closed fist. Each form projects a completely different attitude during conversation, so it's very important to master it right.

do you wonder?

Image Source

Palms Up

Let's start with the most open one, the palms up. It's a universal way of seeking cooperation. It’s so common in fact, that even chimpanzees use it to beg for food and support. Read more about it and about the evolution of gestures here

So, what make this gesture so unique and appealing?
Think of it as a way to show that you come in peace. Remember the times that people used to carry clubs and knives? The good ol' times? Well, back then, revealing your palms was more than just saying hello, it was a necessity to stay alive – You showed that you carry no weapons. That's how handshakes came to be by the way, but more on that later.


I proudly present

Image Source

So, if you come with palms up you show that you're trustworthy, honest and have nothing to hide. It’s a very strong sign of sincerity that we subconsciously accept as credible. That's why people who hide their palms while conversing seem a little suspicious sometimes.

Con artists and liars know this trick and they can use it to their advantage. To distinguish false from truth you need to pay attention to others gestures they make. Are they standing in relaxed and open position? What about their face expression? Signs of incongruity will appear somewhere if they're deceiving you – you'll sense that something is wrong.


Image Source

Remember also that in terms of dominant\passive terms, the palms up is signaling submissive attitude. It's an offer of giving up control to gain support and trust. For example, if you ask someone to do something while using the palms up he's probably going to accept that request as a favor rather than an order.

Palms Down

palm down

Palm Down

Image Source

Now for the opposite gesture…

Logically, if the palms up shows submissive behavior then palms down is showing dominance. It's establishing authority and superior attitude.

Palms down is the way to say "shut up, let me do the talking" or "I'm in control, listen to me now". It doesn't have to be that assertive – the intensity depends on how inclined the palm is down and how forceful is the motion.

It can be a great way to prevent others from interrupting you while you speak. Just raise your hand as a "stop sign" when you see someone is about to interrupt you and you non-verbally ask him to wait for his turn.

Another quite annoying use of this sign is to ask for some quite. Remember Ross from friends with his quite down thing?

When you raise your hand with the palms towards someone you're either asking for patience (as in the example above) or create a wall between you and someone else -"Talk to the hand" gesture. I don't need to tell you that it can be freakishly annoying, right?

One more thing, the palm down gesture doesn't mean that this person is dishonest or unreliable as in the opposite of the palms up gesture. Dominant? Yes. Feeling secure about what he says? Yes. Annoying? Probably. Liar? Don't go that far…

The Fist

We're just going to escalate things a little more…
Closing your hand into a fist is considered a power move; a lot of intensity and force are shown when you use it. Examples:

  • It can be sign of anger – subconsciously getting ready to strike.

  • A power grip – waving the fist in the air while speaking - kinda like hammering a nail in the air; is used to emphasize words and show conviction.

It's quite an aggressive gesture but gets the job done, so use with caution.

holding fist.

Pointing can be a very useful or annoying gesticulation. We used it to learn about our world when we were children by pointing at stuff and learning to name them. As grownups we also tend to focus on things that being pointed at, so it's a useful tool in teaching.


This Way

Image Source

Still, maybe you also remember that your parents told you not to point at people, it's rude. Well they were right. Pointing at someone (especially with the thumb, more on that later) is considered a sign of accusation and ridicule, so it's best be avoided unless you want to provoke someone.

A cool technique you can learn however is using a pen or other pointer to lead the gaze of others while demonstrating or explaining material. Use the pointer to point (duh) at the points you think are important in your slideshow. You can also hold the pointer in front of your eyes to lead the listener's eyes to yours, creating eye contact between you.

Read More

Head back to the main Gestures section

Return to Homepage - Study Body Language

Return to Top

Copyright © 2012 - 2016

Disclaimer Privacy Policy