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What are your body language and gestures saying to those around you in your unguarded moments?

13 Negative Gestures to Avoid

Body language, and especially gestures, account for much more of the message you communicate than the actual words you speak. This 3-part series provides you with all you need to know to communicate a positive message through your gestures.

In the first post we looked at a selection of ‘gestural phrases’ that you can combine to ensure that your gestures positively support whatever message you’re trying to convey.

In the second post we looked at how those basic ‘phrases’ could be combined to create the ‘7 Most Powerful Gestures’.

So far we have focused upon the positive side of gestures – on what you should do.  In this final post in this series I’ll give you a quick look at the ‘dark side’ – those gestures to be avoided in all situations, at all costs.

The Terrible 13

Most of these are so incredibly obvious that you know instinctively that no one allows themselves to use these gestures consciously. That’s the danger of these ‘tells’ – most of them are used completely unconsciously.

  1. Hands near your face.  Rubbing your eyes, touching your nose, ears, hand or neck as you speak. Touching your nose is the typical “I’m lying” gesture you’ll see ‘super cops’ in TV shows use to identify in guilty suspects. Despite the fact that lying is notoriously difficult to definitively recognize from gestures or body language alone you should avoid all face touching gestures completely – especially when you wish to be believed or to persuade.
  2. Hands over mouth.  I’m unsure of what I’m saying or I’m trying to deceive.
  3. Arms crossed.  This is one of those postures that everyone has read about in relation to body language. Some cultures read this as defensive and closed, even though some people use it simply as a perfectly comfortable resting position. In general it is a defensive posture only when it occurs suddenly in reaction to some external stimulus – something someone has said or done. Arms suddenly folded and locked tightly are clearly defensive. For the simple reason that it could be misunderstood by amateur body language readers as defensive, closed or negative it’s best to simply avoid using this gesture.
  4. Hands over genitals.  Highly defensive and nervous.  Never a positive message.
  5. Objects in front of body.  PCs, desks, lecterns – anything that create a distinct separation between you and another again indicates defensiveness. Don’t hide your solar plexus.
  6. Hands in pocket.  Something to hide.
  7. …and rattling your change.  Nervous and ill at ease.
  8. Clenched fists.  Obviously anger, right?  Many people unconsciously clench their hands and signal anger or displeasure they have otherwise managed to conceal – be aware of it and don’t let it slip in unconsciously.
  9. Drumming fingers or tapping toes. Impatience; “aren’t you finished yet?”. Another one that many people exhibit unconsciously – and which all read very clearly consciously and unconsciously.
  10. Pointed forefinger.  Threatening, aggressive, overly authoritarian.  NO ONE likes to have someone point at them in this manner – adapt the alternative more positive version above under “Authoritative but not aggressive” in the second post of this series.
  11. Prior to speeches and presentations: checking your zip, playing with your watch, shooting your cuffs, straightening your tie, or white knuckles on the lectern.  Nervous and unsure of yourself. Shoot your cuffs, straightening your tie and wind your watch before you take the stage.
  12. Hands on hips:  Can be used to signal power and readiness but is read frequently as aggressive. Be careful if that’s not your intended message.
  13. Arms behind your back.  Clearly signals a ‘stay clear’ message – ‘I don’t want to make contact with you or talk with you’.  If that’s the message you want to send , that fine.  If not, be cautious.

Not all of these gestures are inherently negative (e.g. see ‘arms crossed’ above) – but all have the real potential to be interpreted as such by enough people to merit avoiding them completely.

Become conscious of your every gesture and, if you spot any of the ‘Terrible 13’, then work on consciously eliminating them – replacing it with an alternative positive gesture from those in the first and second posts in the series.

Have you any good YouTube examples of gestures one wrong?

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