32 Common Hand Gestures

Here is a list of hand gestures that were gathered from various sources (links at the end). I hope these help you to become more expressive in your communications.

1. Listing: Whenever you list or count something, use a hand gesture to make the point. It helps structure your message and creates some curiosity. People will want to hear your second, third, etc. point when you count along with your hands

2. Backhand Slap. Slap dominant hand into non-dominant hand. – use to drive in a point.

3. Contrasting: Reference to the left and to the right with you hands when talking about different ideas. This or that, here or there, Democrat or Republican, Your get the idea..

4. Critical Whirl: Circle hand clockwise in a small but rapid motion towards the audience. Use this to talk about cycles and processes. Accelerate and repeat until idea is unpacked,

5. The point – Extend forefinger in a controlled but emphatic manner. – “Use it to focus or direct gaze toward an individual or object” Finger pointing and wagging are parental gestures of scolding, and I’ve often seen politicians and executives, in particular, use this gesture in meetings, negotiations or interviews for emphasis or to show dominance. The problem is, that rather than being a sign of authority, aggressive finger pointing suggests that the leader is losing control of the situation-and the gesture smacks of playground bullying.

6. Small, Medium, Large . This is a really easy one and can be used literally to show someone what level something is. You can use this to indicate how big or small something is or where someone stands. For example, you can use the high version along with “It’s a pretty big deal” or the low version with “He’s low man on the totem pole.”. You can also use this to talk about different stages of a process.. start low, move higher with each stage.

7. The Shelf Sweep – Begin with both hands at right hand shoulder. Sweep across the top shelf of imaginary bookcase. When level with left shoulder, make sharp rotation of wrists and sweep across lower shelf. – Use when explaining hierarchies or in clearing out something.

8. Picking Up Small Ideas. Bounce from side to side on imaginary hand trampolines. – Use when taking idea out of original context and placing it somewhere else.

9. The Dialectic. Grip imaginary six centimeter object between thumb and forefinger. Rotate wrist ninety degrees, snapping into end position. Smoothly rotate back to start. Repeat up to three times depending on conviction. – Use when expressing a shift from one thing to another. Highly infectious.

10. The Tiny Dialectic: Follow directions for ‘The Dialectic’ but with thumb and forefinger one centimeter apart. Bring hand toward eyes for closer inspection – Use when unpicking specific detail, or when too self-conscious to use ‘The Dialectic’ gesture

11. Open palms at an angle. Gestures with palms showing (tilted to a 45-degree angle) signal candor and openness. When being truthful or forthcoming, people tend to use open gestures, showing their palms and wrists and spreading hands and arms away from their bodies, as if saying, “See, I have nothing to hide
12. Palms up. When palms are rotated straight up and fingers are spread, in a prototypical pleading position, it communicates the lack of something that the speaker needs or is requesting.

13. Hands up. “It wasn’t me” When you break something at a souvenir store, just put your hands up like this and say, “I didn’t touch it.”. It is a gesture to proclaim your innocence. “I would never drink Coors light..” “I didn’t suggest that you quit your job and take up public speaking..”

14. Clinton Thumb An emphatic, it does not exhibit the anger of the clenched fist or pointing finger, and so is thought to be less threatening. This gesture was likely adopted by Clinton from John F. Kennedy, who can be seen using it in many speeches and images from his political career

15. Hands on hips. Whether in a stubborn toddler or an aggressive CEO, hands on hips is one of the most common gestures used to communicate a defiant, super-confident or independent attitude.

16. The Facepalm. “I can’t believe this s*#%” Use the facepalm to emphasize just how baffled you really are!

17. Steepling gestures. It is common to see a speaker using a steepling gesture (palms separated slightly, fingers of both hands spread and finger tips touching) when feeling confident or comfortable about a subject she knows well. Politicians, executives, professors and attorneys are very fond of using these gestures when they speak. However, it’s one of those power-moves you should use carefully.

18. Fist pump. Use the fist pump to emphasize strength, encouragement, and intensity. Athletes often use the fist pump when they score or make a good play. So, it communicates success..

19. Hand gestures of composure. Arms held at waist height, and gestures within that horizontal plane, help you-and the audience-feel centered and composed. Arms at waist. “We need everyone to remain calm”

20. Air quotes . “I’m being sarcastic”. The three reasons to use “air quotes” when you talk (1) Sarcasm, Irony. (2)Euphemisms. (3) Slang

21. Karate Chop. “We are going to cut through the red tape!” “This is how it is going to be!” This should be your go to move for your strongest points.

22. Rubbing hands together. Great to use in humor. “Ohh this is going to be good!” Also shows excitement or anticipation. “I can’t wait to drive my new Mustang”, “That chocolate cake looks good!”. This can also be used to signify greed “I’ll be rich”.

23. Hand gestures of near heart. They mean it is personal, your sincere. Touching, pointing to, or placing fist over your heart lets the audience know it is meaningful for you.

24. The Come Hither Hand Sign Use the come-hither hand sign when you want someone to come over or to become involved. “Come and join us this Friday..”

25. Come Together: When you bring both of your hands together, it is a gesture of combining and is a great way to show two forces symbolically coming together as one. You even can mesh or fold your hands together to show complete togetherness.

26. Stop The hand gesture consists of extending a palm toward. “We need to STOP the polluting of our waterways! Wait! Hold On! You also can do this when asking a question–it’s a universal attention-grabber. Be careful using this, can be insulting as well “Talk to the hand”.

27. We This gesture can be used whenever you are speaking in a group or to an audience. You open up your arms as if you are wrapping them in a hug, making the ‘we’ gesture. You also can do this when standing next to someone and actually placing your hands behind them as if to indicate ‘you are in my inner circle.’ It is a lovely ‘come together’ gesture when used correctly.

28. Finger to chin. The thinking pose. “I think that…” or use it as part of a dramatic pause. To let your audience know this is something to think about. Use this hand sign to indicate that you’re deep in thought, or slightly perplexed about a situation.

29. Knocking on wood is a superstitious gesture used to ensure that a good thing will continue to occur after it has been acknowledged. However, it is sometimes used after speaking of a plausible unfortunate event, so that it does not actually occur.


30. Peace Sign. The WWII “V’ for victory was later adopted as a symbol of peace. but flip it around (back of hand towards person) and in many countries it is an obscene gesture like giving someone the finger.

31. Okay or A-ok sign. Making a circle with your thumb and your index finger is how to signal “OK” in the US. This is the perfect hand gesture to communicate all is well in your world. But make the same gesture to someone from Brazil, and you’re giving the equivalent to the middle finger — the gesture has “insulting and scatological connotations. Cross Fingers: In most cultures, crossing your fingers means you’re hoping for good luck. But in parts of Asia, the gesture is thought to resemble female genitals, and making it is similar to giving the middle finger.

32. Thumbs up: The thumbs-up gesture is a sign of approval in most countries. However, in several countries in West Africa and the Middle East, including Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the gesture has the connotation of “up yours!” It’s used the same way the middle finger is in the US

For more information on hand gestures and body language:
Wiki – List of gestures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gestures
Science of People: https://www.scienceofpeople.com/hand-gestures/
Social Triggers: https://socialtriggers.com/21-hand-gestures-for-powerful-communication/

Author: Daniel Tucker

Husband, dad, public servant are a few ways to describe me.  I am a caregiver, a helper.. I find happiness in making life easier and fair for others.   I am an introvert, I battle depression, and have a mild case of Asperger's syndrome.   It is easier for me to work alone, helping others from the sidelines.  Life often requires participation and have found myself in the middle of things having to take the lead. I was hired into my current job to punish rulebreakers, to be 'the regulator'.  But that is not who I am. I worked with the industry, our legal staff, and our executive staff to help businesses comply and avoid future penalties.  It took time, yet I have been able to shift my job to that helping companies follow the rules and have not issued a single penalty for over two years.As an introvert, I am working on my communication skills for relationships, for networking, and leadership.  I want to learn to bring out the best in people so that they can help themselves. 

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