How to Read a Person’s Body Language: Hands and Arms

Business communication, business coaching, body language examples

Reading body language can elevate your business communication skills. Whether you are talking to an associate, client, or employee, reading their body language can give you an advantage in controlling the outcome of the conversation or negotiations. The most elite business coaching classes incorporate body language examples throughout their lessons.

Hand gestures and hand placement are very expressive when it comes to body language. Hands can convey a lot of emotion and internal thoughts that reveal more than the person’s words. Because hands, fingers, and arms are so versatile, it can be complicated to discern the meaning behind different motions or stances. But there are key hand and arm body language to look out for.

Hand & Arm Body Language Examples

Hand body language is not universal; what one motion means in one culture may not have the same meaning in another. To best understand hand body language, it helps to set a baseline for normal behavior of individuals. You can more easily spot deviations from their ‘norm’ that can reveal what they are feeling. However, hand movements in strangers or new acquaintances can still be very telling.


Hands Behind the Back

Even though there isn’t a universal meaning behind certain hand movements, there is a universal truth when it comes to hands: all people use hands to communicate in one way or another. So when a person keeps their hands behind their back, they are effectively cutting off a form of communication. In many cultures, this is a sign that they are holding back or trying to control what they express to you. This can make it difficult when you are trying to establish good business communication.


Crossing Arms

Crossing your arms in front or behind your back can unintentionally (or intentionally) convey hostility or a suspicious attitude. This body language puts a physical barrier between yourself and another person, which usually means you don’t trust them or don’t want to be too close to them. It portrays an “I’m not buying it” attitude, whether in regards to what they are selling or what they are saying.

There is often a progression of arm crossing. People usually start with crossed arms as a sign that they are unsure of you. As you break the ice, they may gesture with one arm while the other is still across their body. This one-arm movement is often seen in women but is exhibited by men as well. If you successfully break the ice, their arms will typically come down.

By crossing their arms, a person is physically protecting their torso as a representation of their emotional wariness. In business, reading this arm body language can help you judge how well your negotiations or presentation are going. If a person’s arms start to relax only to get tightly drawn back to their chest, you can assume they didn’t like something you just said.

Clasping Both Hands

The body language of hand clasping is often misinterpreted. Many people think people who clasp their hands are showing confidence and authority, but that is not accurate. In most cases, clasping both hands together reveals frustration and stress. If someone, like an employee, keeps clasping their hands in front of them while you are speaking with them, then they probably don’t feel like talking to you at that moment. It could be a sign that they are frustrated with what you are saying or a sign that they are stressed and don’t have time for you right now.

The position of their hands when clasped can represent different levels of tension. If their hands are clasped in front of them, like on a table or resting in front of them when their elbows are placed on their knees, they are probably experiencing mild tension. This behavior is often exhibited in waiting rooms. On the other hand, if a person clasps their hands in front of their face or above their head, you can perceive high tension. Also, the tighter the grip, the more self-restraint they are exhibiting. By reading this body language, you may be able to mitigate their stress level based on your response.


Groin Blocking

When people clasp or cross their hands in front of their groin, they are often showing strong feelings of insecurity and nervousness. Though similar, it expresses more vulnerability than arm crossing. Covering the groin area can also send a message of submissiveness, shyness, and innocence. In business coaching, it is recommended to avoid this stance if you want to appear assertive and decisive.


How to Read Hand Body Language

Interpreting hand body language can be further supported by other, simultaneous facial microexpressions and body language. To understand the whole picture, you need to look at the whole picture. If you want to learn how to uncover a person’s true thoughts and feelings, DR WEBER COACHING offers a Reading Others Workshop: Discover Truth About Lies. There is limited space for this powerful two-day workshop on reading others and learning to make sense of truth and lies.

Be sure to visit our blog often. Subsequent articles will cover more micro expressions and body language that can give you a glimpse of a person’s true thoughts and feelings.


✅ Check-out the Body Language Course: Understanding Body Language and Non-verbal communication, Learn to read people like a book!


Key Takeaways


  • Importance of Reading Body Language in Business:
    • Body language analysis enhances business communication skills, providing an advantage in negotiations and conversations.
    • Elite business coaching classes incorporate body language examples to empower professionals.
  • Hand and Arm Body Language:
    • Hands, fingers, and arms convey emotions and thoughts more vividly than words, but their meanings can be complex.
    • Understanding cultural nuances is crucial as hand movements differ in meaning across cultures.
  • Common Hand and Arm Gestures:
    • Hands Behind the Back:
      • Indicates withholding information or attempting to control communication, common in various cultures.
    • Crossing Arms:
      • Suggests hostility, distrust, or suspicion; signals emotional wariness.
      • Arm position changes signify comfort levels; relaxed arms indicate acceptance, while tense arms imply disagreement.
    • Clasping Both Hands:
      • Often misinterpreted; signifies frustration and stress, not confidence.
      • Different hand positions reveal varying levels of tension; tight grip indicates self-restraint.
  • Groin Blocking:
    • Crossing hands or clasping them in front of the groin denotes insecurity, nervousness, and vulnerability.
    • Indicates submissiveness and shyness; not recommended for appearing assertive in business settings.
  • Identify Body Language:
    • Interpretation is aided by simultaneous facial microexpressions and overall body language analysis.
    • Comprehensive understanding involves considering multiple cues to uncover a person’s true thoughts and emotions.
  • Further Learning:
    • DR WEBER offers a workshop, “Reading Others: Discover Truth About Lies,” providing in-depth knowledge of interpreting body language and microexpressions.
    • Regularly visiting the blog provides ongoing insights into various microexpressions and body language cues.

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