Hand Gestures - Regulators (Part 2)

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Welcome to the second part on regulators where we continue with some tools to evaluate the reaction and thought process of our listeners.

Let’s start:

Feedback Signals

I talked about that we need to pay attention to our listener, so that we’ll know when and where to speak, but now let’s talk about signals that can help us understand their frame of mind. After all, what’s the point of continue blabbing around if our listener has lost interest? or entirely disagrees with us?

For simplicity sake I decided to separate such signals into to 2 main categories, but keep in mind that in reality such clusters of gestures can be mixed or appear one right after the other. The 2 main aspects are:

Attention - Is the listener bored, faking attention or truly interested?

Evaluation - Is the message is getting through, how positive or negative is the reaction?


The most basic feedback of attention we have is eye contact - when our listener keeps eye contact with us we know he’s paying attention, but we have one expression that gives away a “forced attention” = Boredom.

Let’s face it, oftentimes we don’t have the option to get away from encounters we don’t like: be it the 100th time our relative tell the same old story in a family gathering or when we must attend a stuffy meeting or a dull lecture.

Out of politeness, respect or fear we keep the attention - we maintain eye contact.

But.. since we know it’s going to be long and tedious we may as well get relaxed, right?  So we put our head on a pedestal, our hand, and wait comfortably for the speech’s end.

I mention this expression of boredom because it isn’t always that obvious - sometimes the hand-supporting-chin is interpreted as attention signal, although it’s done more out of politeness than true concern.

It’s a passive position, in a truly engaging conversation the listener will be tuned and animated - if he’ll use a hand-to-face gesture it would be putting the index finger near the temple or stroking chin, he won’t just sit there with a blank expression waiting for you to be done.

By the way, what is boredom and can it be..useful? find out more in this not-boring video of Vsouce:


When the listener is faced with a problem or a need to decide upon a proposition he automatically starts to evaluate the situation and how he should approach it. To get a more accurate we should split this into 2 phases:

1) The listening and analyzing data phase - in this step there are many signals that can help determine the general attitude of the listener:

  • Folding arms or legs?

  • Attentive or not? (what we just talked about, but don’t forget eye contact and head gestures)

  • Hand to face gestures - index fingers resting on the temple signify a deep thought process, but if it’s crossing the mouth or resting on the opposite cheek (while the rest of the hand covering the chin) - it’s more of a critical-negative evaluation, he’s in doubt.

  • How relaxed or nervous is s\he? -look for fidgeting and nervous actions.

2) The second phase is the actual decision time. The listener has heard the proposal and now it’s his turn to come to an immediate decision. This step doesn't always occurs, because it’s role is to stall the answer. In this step you’ll see actions that suppose to allow the listener a few more seconds to contemplate before making a final decision. They include:

  • Chin Stroking

  • Chewing objects

  • Scratching (especially the face)

  • Stroking face or neck - pacifying behavior

  • Preening

  • Lighting a cigarette

Suppose you try to make a convincing argument\sales pitch - how can you utilize what we just discussed? How and when to engage your listener?

As always, it depends - if you see positive signals during the evaluation phase , your listener is engaged and open with you, all you need to do is wait during the decision phase and you can safe that the reaction would be positive.

If on the other hand you see negative signals during the evaluation phase,it's time to change your strategy:

  • Try a different verbal approach
  • If their body is closed - try to open them by offering them something to hold or to do - Remember that the longer they stay in closed position the more fortified they will be in their thoughts.
  • If they’re impatient or seem disinterested - change your tempo or engage them by asking a question. Get them involved!
  • Change the environment. Of course it depends on the available accommodations and the setting, but generally you want a noise-free environment.

If you arrived to the decision phase and you observe negative signals - you better intervene quickly before the actual “no” is said. It’s very hard to reverse verbal decisions because people don’t like to appear fickle minded - they tend to stick with what they already said.

Moving On

Next we move to the final part on hand gestures - Adaptors, perhaps the most  confusing and misinterpreted type of hand gestures.

Adapators - Hand Gestures

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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