Hand Gestures - Regulators (Part 1)

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We arrive to the next part with regulators.

Regulators are a collection of expressions and gestures that help us control and understand conversations better . It includes a combination of many aspects of body language such as: eye contact, touch, hand gestures, head nods or head shakes, facial expressions and vocal cues.

I know it sounds a little strange to hear that we need to regulate our conversations, because we don't actively try to control them, right? they just seem to flow...

But the importance of regulators surfaces  up when they lack. I'm sure you know that guy\girl that just keeps interrupting others,  or on the other extreme end - someone who just makes sudden awkward pauses and you’re not sure if s\he’s done.

This problems may or may not (there can be another  psychological explanation) result from lack of understanding the use of regulators in a conversation. In simple words - whose turn is to speak and whose turn is to listen.

Learning to Listen

Before we actually start talking about how hand gestures get into this whole regulation thing, I’m going to go a little of topic here because I want to speak about some very fundamental but somewhat rare skill nowadays - Paying attention.

In every conversation we have, we got time to be active and time to be passive. A certain balance between the roles of the speaker and listener is required for an healthy conversation and good rapport to exist, that’s why we need to pay attention to signals that tell us when we should continue or stop talking.

Such signals are not hard to get, in fact we intuitively understand them but only if we actually look and listen to them.

Don't  let it get to this point

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I know that’s sometimes it’s boring or frustrating to listen, but if you care about the impression you leave you need to “suffer” a little for that. After all we always have at least 2 sides to each conversation. In case of non-verbals, you want to avoid:

  1. Fidgeting and drumming fingers or feet- Impatience never been good in building rapport, and moreover, it’s actually addicting. That’s why we hate impatience gestures so much - they makes us nervous just by watching.

  2.  Playing with distractions - put down your phone…

  3.  Glancing at the clock - what’s more obvious than this to say: “you’re wasting my time”?

  4.  Putting hands behind the head - because it’s condescending, it actually shouts: “I know better than you!”

But the biggest issue is to know when to stop talking! -  Being in the speaker’s role doesn’t dismiss you from paying attention to your listener. Don’t continue blabbing if you see that they lose interest or impatient to say something themselves, because if you do, don’t be surprised if you get the same treatment.

to sum this up: I’m sorry if this last part felt a little too obvious, but my aim wasn’t to reprimand or to judge - but to remind you of some concepts we seem to forget. Know how to respect and be respected.

Maybe the next time you see others who seem to ignore such basic rules for honest and equal conversation, you’ll reevaluate your time and effort spent with such people.


Back to hand gestures. When we talk - our mouth isn't the only part that moves. In fact, when we care, we make every possible effort to describe and strengthen our point of view by using gestures and tone of voice.

But even then, there are differences in how we do that, there are 2 main things that vary the frequency of such displays: social status and cultural norms.

Let's start with social status:

Using hand gestures has an opposite correlation with status - the more you gesticulate, the less social status you have, usually. Authoritative figures prefer to use less gestures, but more deliberate ones - to say less but to achieve more. When you gesticulate less you look distant and formal, qualities that often related with snobby and aristocratic figures.

Cultural norms have a lot to say on how and when you should use your hands to speak. In some countries it's considered rude and aggressive to speak with your hands, in others (Italy is a famous example) you can barely insert a word if you don't use your hands.

Because there’s such variety I cannot write a specific guide to when and how much should you use hand gestures - but using your own judgment and keeping in mind such factors you can get along just fine.

Remember: what you consider rude may just be the standard for others.  Be smart - learn to adapt rather than being insulted or angry by other’s customs.

Moving On

Now let's continue to the second part where we’ll focus on feedback signals. How to interpret the reaction of your listeners:

Hand Gestures - Regulators (Part 2)

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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