Body Language Gestures

Hi and welcome dear reader!

As you might already guessed, this section of the site is dedicated to... gestures! Our nonverbal words and punctuation.

You might say it's the building blocks of body language, because we communicate mainly through motions of our body and expressions with our face. Without it we would be like robots - standing and (perhaps) blinking at each other while we speak.

If you already read the intro you can skip right to the series on gestures. Don't skip if you didn't! Really, it matters.

What's the deal?

The simple way to think about gestures is to imagine them like words and punctuations.

When we say the right verbal words and enhance them with the right gestures, or use them at the right time - we reinforce our message and consequently appear more honest, confident, friendly, authoritative, seductive or whatever we try to convey.

And when we don't - our actions talk louder than words. Even the best pick-up line won't work if you shake like a leaf while saying it, right? (unless your pick-up line has something to do with you being nervous of course!)

You  can convince, show support, negotiate, converse, command and even seduce with your body, if you know where and when to use the right gestures.

And of course, gestures can be a great substitute for words, deaf people use sign language with great efficiency, and non-deaf also utilize gestures instead of words when the need arise (I personally learned many of them during my army service). In fact we have gestures that express things we can hardly describe with words, I wish I could give you an example, but oh the irony... 

But what are the right gestures? Who decides that anyway?

These are complicated questions, but I'll do my best to explain:

First of all, gestures are divided between those you're born knowing - like smiling, for example, and those you learn through culture and habit - like making the "thumbs up".

Humans have a long experience with nonverbal communication, before we had words we needed to rely on groaning and gesturing just like our distant relatives - the apes. These old habits stuck, and we still rely much on them to support our words or to signal others nonverbally. In fact it's so hardwired in our brain that we even gesticulate while speaking on the phone, when obviously the other person can't see us.

When I say "right gestures" I refer to actions and motions that appear congruent and in synchrony with what we say. If I say "so glad to see you!" with my arms locked, a stiff head and a frozen smile - you wouldn't take my words seriously, simply because they don't match my actions.

So nobody decided what is right and what is wrong in this communication, it's something we're either born knowing or learn through experience.

But of course, since we grow in different cultures and have different experiences we might have different notions about what certain actions mean. An example:

The sign 'V' with 2 fingers can mean victory, peace, the number 2 or "up yours" in Britain:


Up yours

Note: if you want to avoid insulting British just turn the hand the other way - with the palm side facing them.

How to "study" it?

There are many, and when I say many I mean hundreds if not thousands of different gestures out there. Do we really need to learn them all?

I believe you don't.

While it can be nice to have some sort of a pocket dictionary full of gestures, especially when traveling, learning them all is actually counterproductive. After all, different gestures can mean different things in different places.

Plus, if you take into account that some gestures are unique to certain individuals who make them only at certain times - what you get is a big mess in your head.

Instead, let's get to the nitty gritty of it:

Since the limbic brain is in charge of our automatic reactions,  if we can understand how it thinks and reacts, we can understand the meaning behind the gestures we make. I want you to think about what you see and try to explain it, rather than know by heart every action. This way, even if you see something unfamiliar you'll have the tools to understand it better.

That's why in every series to come I will provide you with some easy to remember and noticeable guidelines you can follow to help you analyze what you see.

But even then, you have the bigger role in this - you need to use your own judgment, be observant and read it right! After all, you can't have a complete field guide for life, right?

Is this something that I can learn to "fake"?

OK, first let's distinguish between faking and improving your communication skills:

You can learn to use your body to deliver stronger messages and appear more confident and honest when conversing. It's a matter of practice and self awareness to your own body language and eventually you can create these habits. It also depends on your personality type and the culture you come from (some cultures use less gestures than others) so it's a unique experience per individual.

Note: Evil genius - Hitler taught himself to appear more charismatic (and dramatic?) in public speaking by practicing his speeches and using powerful gestures in front of the mirror.

Now when it comes to lying, it's much harder. You see, teaching yourself how to lie with your body is like rewiring the circuits of your brain. Our reactions and behavior are governed by the limbic part of our brain - an instinctive and spontaneous brain that follows a certain pattern when sensing threat and stress.

The act of deceit is one such scenario - the stress of being caught lying. By trying to fake your own body language you force yourself to take manual control from the autopilot - you'll get resistance, and your performance will look unnatural. After many attempts you might succeed (just like an actor playing a role), but it will never be perfect, and you'll need to stay in full control during the act.  

Alright, enough background, let's get to the juicy part I believe you came here for - the gestures:

Head Gestures

We will start from the top. The head gestures are a great way to understand the mood of someone and his\her points of interests.

Head Gestures Part 1 - Getting the Basics

Head Gestures Part 2 - The Head Nod

Head Gestures Part 3 - Head Shaking

Image Source


The way our body is held is a reflection of our inner world and the way we treat our body. Find out how to use postures to help your confidence and your health.

Body Gestures Part 1

Body Gestures Part 2

Arms and Hands Gestures

Arms and hands gestures are only second to the face in terms of their expressiveness. Their flexibility and dynamic nature makes them a very special and unique tool of communication for humans.

Hand Gestures

Basics - start here

Emblems (Part 1 | Part 2)

Illustrators (Part 1 | Part 2)

Affect Displays (Part 1 | Part 2)

Regulators (Part 1 | Part 2)


Palm Gestures

Part 1 - Palm Positions

Part 2 - Handshakes

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