We tend to focus mostly on people’s faces and arms when we try to read their body language. There are so many other parts of the body that reveal our secrets, that are often highly neglected. One of those are the position of the palms.
First, I have a little exercise for you. Think of your child or spouse asking you to do something you absolutely refuse to (for me, it would be giving up coffee. Are you out of your mind?!). Now say no in the strongest way possible. Do it together with your hands. Are your palms facing up or down?
Next exercise: Time for you to ask your spouse that favour that you know she/he’s not going to be keen to do. Ask nicely. Really nicely. Palms up or down?
Last exercise: You are ordering your child to his room or your spouse to go pick up his socks or her pantyhose from the bathroom floor. Do it in your sternest voice. Ordering them to do it. NOW! Where is your palm now?
The Open Palm (and/or facing up): When you can see the other person’s palm, your brain perceives that person as non-threatening. Think of a beggar, standing with his hand out. Or you asking your spouse to buy a new coffee machine (when the old one is still working, but a newer, shinier model would be so much nicer). Your palm is up, right? Showing how non-threatening you are. This is why so many leaders will show a great deal of palm in waving and gesturing while giving speeches. It makes people feel safe to listen to them.
The Palm Facing Down: That was when you said, No! When people see that gesture, they will understand your request to be an order and your answer to be final. This gesture will immediately give you authority, which might vey well result in resentment, rebellion and huge arguments. It’s okay to use this when saying, No!, to giving up coffee, but not while requesting someone’s help. It will lend your request an air of insincerity (and make it sound like an order).
Closed Palm (finger pointing): Oh my goodness, this gesture evokes so many negative emotions that we might consider to give up using it altogether. Firstly, the closed fist makes our primal brain think of an impending punch. Secondly, that pointed finger is a ‘do it or else’ kind of gesture and an accusatory one that almost never goes with good emotions. Pointing a finger at someone while arguing … yeah, not a good idea.
I highly recommend reading The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara and Allan Pease. In it they talk about an experiment they did with speakers using the above-mentioned gestures. When speaking to three different audiences, the speakers would primarily use one of these gestures. The results were fascinating! When they used the Open Palm or Palm Up gesture while speaking, they received 84% positive feedback. This dropped to 52% for the Palm Facing Down and a (not-so-shocking) 28% for the finger pointing. Nobody likes being ordered around or accused, right?
Even if you don’t spend time looking at your friends and family’s palms, do yourself the favour while watching the news and pay attention to the palms of the politicians. They are always fun to watch! Of course, these gestures can be manipulated, but you can be sure that it would be just as easy to spot the insincerity when a beautiful Open Palm is contrasted by other confrontational nonverbal cues. Remember to read everything in context!