Body language expert decodes the most common British hand gestures

Body language expert decodes the most common British hand gestures

What does your body language REALLY say? Expert reveals the intentions behind common hand gestures

  • A body language expert has broken down the UK’s most used hand gestures
  • Darren Stanton – a former prison psychologist – decodes what they really mean 
  • A study by INEOS Hygienics suggest that Britons are now more ‘handimated’
  • READ MORE: Body language expert reveals six signs your dating a narcissist

A body language expert has decoded the top hand gestures being used in the UK, including some dubbed the ‘double tumbleweed’, ‘politician’s steeple’ and ‘the deceiver’ – used to express a range of emotions, including shock, happiness and even cockiness.

Former prison psychologist Darren Stanton took a deeper look at the signals, as a new study by handwash brand INEOS Hygienics revealed that more than 14 million Britons now communicate more with their hands than they did pre-pandemic.

Examples include waving your palms out as you think out loud, bringing your fingers together to express an air of authority and rubbing your chin as you dwell on judgement.

‘Technology has driven an interesting shift in physical behaviour – where people have definitely become more animated due to the pandemic,’ Darren told FEMAIL. ‘Public speaking ignites fear amongst so many of us, and the rise of video calls has forced us to perform at the centre of attention – whether we like it or not.’

A behaviour expert explained that we make a conscious effort to appear more animated with colleagues on Zoom (Stock image used)

The behavioural expert also said that, ‘psychologically we’re all on stage more’, which can create more stress, and allows us to use our hands as a way of diverting attention.

‘There is a correlation between the degree of animation that someone shows with their hands and their body and their level of confidence,’ he added.

‘For example, weather presenters can be very animated with their arms and bodies, which is directly linked to levels of confidence and the need to convey information clearly and concisely.’

Darren also explained that we also make a conscious effort to appear more animated with colleagues on Zoom.

Here, Darren dug deeper into what the varieties of our gestures could mean.

DOUBLE TUMBLEWEED

Darren explained this gesture shows there was no pre-planned dialogue, with the speaker likely trying to make sense of what they’re saying in real-time, as they talk

Action: Hands out in front of the body, fingers spread out, left wrist rolls anti-clockwise, right wrist rolls clockwise.

Darren explained this gesture shows there was no pre-planned dialogue, with the speaker likely trying to make sense of what they’re saying in real-time, as they talk.

‘The Double Tumbleweed shows you can’t get the words out at the same speed you are thinking,’ he explained. ‘The rolling hands show a bit of a delay in what the person is thinking about.’

The expert added that the gesture may resonate more with women, who are ‘seen to be more open about their feelings and are in touch with kinesthetics’.

The more staggered the ‘tumbleweed’, the more stalled the thought process is likely to be, Darren added. 

He continued: ‘People who use the Double Tumbleweed talk at the rate they’re working things out in their head for themselves.’

‘Or perhaps it’s a difficult topic that they’re trying to get advice on. It might even be a difficult subject they are trying to navigate as they are talking.’

THE DECEIVER

The fact that the person is keeping their palms down suggests they’re keeping a secret, the expert explained 

Action: Arms out straight in front, on the desk, palms down – usually seen in business meetings. 

This is a deceptive gesture because you’re not opening your palms, the expert said. 

The fact that the person is keeping their palms down suggests they’re keeping a secret.

‘You are reading the room and are about to drop a bombshell that someone or everyone won’t like,’ Darren added. ‘Perhaps you’re going to shoot someone or something down in flames.

‘You could be about to say something that you are keeping very guarded, like playing poker and keeping your cards close to your chest.’

THE CHIN RUB

Darren branded this gesture as one of judgement as the person considers what they’ve been told

Action: Thumb cradling the ‘V’ of the chin with a pointer finger on the face at a 20-degree angle, pointing to the temple.

Darren branded this gesture as one of judgement as the person considers what they’ve been told.

It’s a physical reaction to your configuring how you’re feeling about something as you take all the information in.  

‘In a sales pitch or if someone is pitching an idea to you, you are running pictures through your mind of how that would look in real terms,’ he said.

POLITICIAN’S STEEPLE

There are two main elements to this. The speaker is likely exercising authority if the hands are together; but in creative environments, this can also mean evaluation

Action: Middle fingertips of each hand touching together – with thumbs also touching to form a triangle shape with both hands.

‘This is an authoritative position,’ Darren said. ‘Not that the person thinks they’re better than you, but it just shows they believe themselves to be an authority on the topic they’re discussing.’

There are two main elements to this. The speaker is likely exercising authority if the hands are together; but in creative environments, this can also mean evaluation. 

‘Tapping whilst using the politician’s steeple means they’re considering what’s being said.

‘They’re essentially thinking whether there is any merit to it,’ he explained. ‘People who work in Sales use this when they’re talking to people, as they are processing a lot of information as they speak.’

SINGLE TUMBLEWEED

The expert also revealed that someone talking and moving one hand may not be ‘wholeheartedly confident with what they’re saying’

Action: One hand held out in front of body with wrist rolling in a circle.

This gesture is a literal embodiment of ‘get a move on’, Darren said.

‘Sometimes people do it subconsciously,’ he added. ‘A lot of the time, people aren’t even aware of what they’re doing with their hands.’

The expert also revealed that someone talking and moving one hand may not be ‘wholeheartedly confident with what they’re saying’ – and could also be a sign they’re ‘being insincere because it’s not congruent’.

‘If I’m quite stoic, and I’m not moving my hands at the same rate at which I am speaking to you verbally – that’s a red flag,’ Darren said. ‘There’s something which is not quite right.

‘If I’m speaking to you quickly, but my hand isn’t moving in time, or is moving quite slowly, there is an incongruity there. The hands will always move in proportion.’ 

However, if the gesture is happening while someone else is speaking – it means they’re eagerly awaiting their turn. 

‘Essentially, they’ve already decided what they’re going to say in response to you,’ he explained.

FANNING TEARS

Darren said that even though this gesture may at times appear false, it is a very real way of showing empathy and emotion 

Action: Hands in front of cheeks, with fingers flapping back and forth.

‘There are no tears here, but that doesn’t mean this is a false gesture,’ Darren remarked. ‘It’s real and is a way of showing emotion.’

This movement could signal ‘I’m happy for you’, or ‘I’m overwhelmed for you.’

‘This is generally a more female gesture,’ he explained. ‘And one which shows empathy in emotionally-charged situations.’

DRAMA

While this gesture is often mistaken for meaning ‘Oh my Gosh!’ – it’s actually a combination of both fear and surprise

Action: Fingers of both hands spread out, thumbs touching under the chin, other fingers spread out on either cheek, little fingers touching lips.

While this gesture is often mistaken for meaning ‘Oh my Gosh!’ – it’s actually a combination of both fear and surprise, and is usually accompanied by the micro expression which is where the cheek muscles tense up.

Darren likened it to ‘the type of grimace which the popular cartoon character Wallace does in the Aardman films’.

‘When we talk about micro expressions, which show you what a person is really feeling, surprise lasts less than one fifth of a second,’ he added.

‘So, when someone is told some news and they put their hands to their face for around two seconds or longer, the likelihood is that they already knew what you’ve told them!’

The expert said people who put hands to their face immediately – in a show of ‘flash surprise’ – are likely ‘over-egging the pudding’ and knew what was coming beforehand.

I’M ON YOUR SIDE

The movement is likely to be part of a subconscious move to get the other person to understand that the speaker being honest

Action: Four fingers of each hand touching dead centre of chest with middle fingers an inch apart, thumbs in the air.

This gesture can be a show of authority (if hands are together), or, if the chest is being tapped, a sign of self-assurance. 

The movement means ‘I’m being sincere’ and ‘were together on this’, in a subconscious move to get the other person to understand that they’re being honest.  

‘People aren’t being deceptive when they use this gesture,’ Darren added.

FOLDING ARMS

While, traditionally, anything across the chest was thought to be defensive, the behaviour expert said that more recent studied suggest that it’s simply comfortable 

Action: Arms interlocked in front of chest. Hands resting on opposite bicep.

While, traditionally, anything across the chest was thought to be defensive, the behaviour expert said that more recent studied suggest that ‘it’s actually just a comfortable posture’.

‘Certainly though, if someone sits back in the chair a little bit and locks their fingers together, then that’s showing disinterest,’ he continued. 

‘But if you’ve got someone in a meeting who is quite pro-active in what they’re saying, and they lean back and fold their arms, they’re merely getting themselves into a comfortable posture.’

However, someone turning away their body and shifting their position is more likely to mean disinterest.  

SAY WHAT?

Darren says that this is our go-to gesture for times of surrender – even when we’re doing it jokingly

Action: Arms stretched out at 45-degree angle form the body, palms facing the sky, fingers spread out.

‘This is saying “hands up” and again has an open palms gesture,’ Darren outlined. ‘It’s almost like the police saying “Freeze”, for example. The first thing people would do would be to do that.’

He said this is our go-to gesture for times of surrender – even when you’re doing it jokingly.

He added: ‘This is what people do. For example, if you’re walking out of the supermarket and the alarm goes off, you place your hands up and out like this. It’s saying – What!?’

CHURCHGOER

This action – depending on whether your mouth is being covered up or not – could means different things

Action: Similar to the look of someone praying with hands held together tightly in front of lower face with forefingers touching the bottom lip.

This action – depending on whether your mouth is being covered up or not – could means different things.

Darren said: ‘If you are listening with your hands in this position, you are considering very carefully what the other person is saying.

‘If someone is talking with their hands further up by their face, they’re not very trustworthy as they’re blocking the mouth up. It’s disingenuous doing this.’

HANDS ON HEAD

Known universally to be a position in times of duress, hands on the head are likely to signal worry and panic

Action: Both hands placed on the top of the head with fingers locked together, commonly seen from Footballers.

Known universally to be a position in times of duress, hands on the head are likely to signal worry and panic.  

According to Darren, this is a physical embodiment of the disbelief that you’re in a given situation – and is also self-reassurance when in a difficult position.

‘Hands on the head is a stress position,’ he added. ‘It’s why the police ask people to do that when they arrest someone.’

HANDS BEHIND HEAD

Darren said that this gesture suggests ‘complete arrogance’ and implies that the person feels entirely comfortable and unguarded

Action: Fingers locked with hands fully behind the back of the head.

‘This is complete arrogance,’ Darren remarked. ‘As in, “I’m the king of the castle”.’

He explained: ‘Psychologically, we want to guard our torso because it’s where our vital organs are.

‘So, if you are in this position, you are comfortable that you’re not going to be attacked verbally or physically. This is a very cocky position indeed.’

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