Palm Power: How To Reduce Resistance From Others With Your Hands

The open palm is a powerful expressive tool that can be used to communicate effectively to individuals and groups. Just observe individuals who are under public scrutiny. Most of these individuals would have their hands hidden in their pant pockets or coat pockets.

That single gesture alone means that the individual does not want to talk at all. It is a barrier gesture that sends a powerful visual message instantly.

Body language is much more effective than words or vocal language because once a person sees a non-verbal message he understand instantly. There is no delay between the transmission of the non-verbal message and the reception of the same.

Now, because the “open hands” pose or open palm gesture is so strong, pathological liars and con artists usually use such gestures to get the trust of other people.

But again we have to emphasize that the open palm gesture can only convey sincerity and truthfulness if all other signals within a cluster are congruent with each other. There has to be a clear parallel between the bigger gesture and the micro-signals (i.e. lips, cheeks, eyes, eye brows, etc.)

Experience con artists can learn to control their emotions and body language so much that they appear sincere and believable even if they really aren’t. Be careful when dealing with such individuals – be alert and always read the “body speak” even when you are convinced that the other person is telling the truth.

Let’s say you want to appear more sincere than you are now. What should you do? Easy – use the “open palm” pose more often.

People know that a person who exposes his palms is not hiding anything. However, I must warn you that when you get into the habit of using your open palms all the time you need to make sure that you are ready to tell the truth every time.

You see, the mind-body connection is so strong that when we consciously choose gestures like the open-palm pose we automatically associate the gesture with telling the truth. It’s a basic “cause and effect” relationship that the mind makes with the body language that we consciously choose to use. So again, be careful when you choose this particular strategy.

Body language has strong linkages to the way we express our emotions. Whether you are feeling happy, sad or defensive right now, there is a gesture or movement that will express what you are truly feeling.
That is the reason why it is extra difficult to tell a lie if you keep your hands open and exposed. Your body will react to the emotion and thoughts that you have as you perform the open hand gesture. Since physical responses to emotions are hard-wired, it’s pretty difficult to counter what comes instinctually to people.

Commands and Palm Gestures

Palm up

Palm down, fingers pointed

Palm down

It is very common for people to use their hands when they are trying to instruct or command someone to do something. There are three main gestures involved when a command is being given to another person:

The palm up gesture

The palm down gesture

The palm down, fingers pointed gesture

Let’s discuss the differences between these three gestures. The first one is the “palm up” gesture. A person who is making these gestures can be communicating any of the following:

I am pointing at the relevant item or location.

I am asking you to listen.

I am ready to listen to you.

I want to listen to you.

I am making a non-threatening request right now.

I am passing on important yet non-urgent instructions

I am politely ordering you to do something

The palm-up gesture may have different effects on people but mainly, this gesture means you are equalizing the playing field and you are not resorting to your position or role to get what you want.

People who see such a gesture will not normally feel that they are being threatened with the command and order and as such, the resistance to perform the desired action is minimized or completely eliminated.

The palm-down gesture on the other hand, immediately creates a power struggle between two individuals because this gesture signifies power. The downward movement (which naturally follows a palm down position) means you are directly commanding the other person to follow what you have just said.

If you used this gesture in an office environment and you gave the request or command to a fellow office worker who is of the same level as you, expect some degree of animosity to erupt between the two of you because you are telling the other person that you are superior to him as you do the gesture.

The third gesture (the palm down, fingers closed and pointed) is the most aggressive and dominant gesture of all.

The third gesture should only be used if you are really addressing subordinates who report directly to you and you will not suffer from any backlash by performing a direct power play on a person or group while you were given orders or instructions.

The third gesture is a little off limits because the movement generated by this pose is reminiscent of a weapon beating down on someone.

If you close fingers tightly as you give someone instructions, the tendency is for your entire arm to stiffen as you move your hand back and forth. This really creates the illusion that you are beating with something and therefore, you should be listened to.

Palm positions can also reveal the power play within a relationship. Traditionally, males are seen as the ‘de facto’ leaders in relationships. But we know this isn’t true. It’s different from couple to couple. Some couples have the woman at the lead while some couples have males at the lead.

You can easily see who is in charge when you check out how a couple walks in public. The ‘boss’ in the relationship will usually be walking first, followed by the more submissive partner.

The more dominant one in the relationship will have his palms facing the other partner while the other partner’s palm will be facing the dominant one’s palm. There will be a hand clasp involved, but still, the submissive partner’s hand will be ‘under’ the dominant one’s hand.

Side-oriented pointed finger

Bottom-oriented pointed finger

A fourth gesture exists: the pointed finger. There are two variations of the pointed finger. One is made with the palm partially exposed at the side. This gesture resembles a gun and when you make this gesture, it is as if you were ‘shooting’ orders at someone.

When you make this gesture, it is obvious that you want to subordinate the other person to follow what you want. Expect some animosity and resistance if you habitually use such a gesture.

The second variation of the pointed finger utilizes a palm-down position instead. The thumb is tucked in and the focal point of this gesture is the rigid, pointing index finger. The second variation of the pointed finger is much more offensive and aggressive than the first variation so never use it if you want a more harmonious relationship with people!

In some countries in Southeast Asia, using the index finger when talking to someone is considered a massive insult and you can easily incur the ire of some people as pointing itself is only used for inanimate objects and animals. Be careful with your habitual hand gestures when travelling to other countries!

Rule of Thumb: When giving commands or instructions, use an open palm together with gentle movements.

In a study that focused on audience feedback, a lecturer was asked to deliver just one lecture to three different groups of people. The only thing that changed when each of the three lectures was delivered was the hand gestures that were used during the lecture.

As expected, the palm up gesture was the most effective in grabbing the attention and trust of the audience. Eighty-five percent of individuals from the ‘palms up’ group reported that they liked the lecture.

In the second group, the lecturer reported the same lecture but he used the palms down gesture instead. The positive reports from the audience dropped to just fifty two percent positive reports.

In the third and final group, the lecturer predominantly used the pointed finger while he was delivering the lecture.

As expected, the crowd really despised the lecture. Only twenty three percent of the audience thought that it was a good lecture. In addition to this poor ‘report card’ some members of the audience had enough early on and left the lecture hall completely.

Using the pointed finger when talking to people can also reduce message retention. Since people are automatically on the alert when they see a pointed finger, they will focus more on the gesture than the message.

Instead of using the offensive gesture, why not opt for the ideal pose (the palm up gesture) or at least acceptable pose (the palm down gesture)? It takes time to develop a new body language-related habit, but it is possible. The trick is to watch your hands even for a few seconds just before you speak to check if your fingers are pointing again.

If your fingers are indeed pointing, just correct your gesture and move forward. People don’t usually mind when a person points a few times during a conversation. Pointing gestures can sometimes be helpful if you want to drive home an extremely important point or if you want to show that you are agitated about something. But don’t overdo it!

By correcting your hand gestures during a conversation, you can expect the following to happen:

People will be more open to your ideas.

Resistance to your ideas will be reduced.

You will actively contribute to a more relaxed and productive environment.

People will look at you as a credible speaker.

People will appreciate the way you talk to people.

What should you do if you want to appear authoritative when you are talking?

A good option if you want to appear authoritative (without incurring the ire of your audience) is to simply squeeze your index finger with your thumb. When you do this, all your other fingers are loosely closed and only your thumb and index finger are firm.

People who see this gesture think that they should listen to the speaker because he exudes confidence and authority – the good kind. The gesture is somewhat authoritarian in nature but it does not compare at all to the pointed finger.

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