We communicate with a lot more than our mouths. Think of communication as an art. An artist has a number of tools they use to produce their art. A painter uses many different brushes, spatulas, and pigments to create a painting. A poet uses words and phrases with punctuation and page space to create a poem. A good communicator uses their mouth and upper airway as well as facial expression and gesture to share their ideas. Gestures enhance spoken communication.

Gestures are movements, usually of the hands, that enhance the meaning of spoken communication. You probably do not have to think very long to come up with an example of gestural communication, whether you happen to know American Sign Language or you’re trying to merge onto I-77 at midday.
Many gestures are fairly universal, such as the hand out, palm up gesture. Other gestures are culture-specific, such as the OK sign – whose meaning varies from the United States, where it means, “all okay,” to Argentina and Greece it is more offensive.

We can use our hands as an addition to spoken communication, to help our listeners understand us. In order for gestures to be understood, they should be produced within clear view of the listener, usually in front of the upper torso or face. Unless you are using a specific gesture that your listener is familiar with, keep it simple. The simpler the gesture, the more likely your listener will understand what you mean to say.

What are you saying with your hands?

The position of your hands has an impact on your message.

Hands open with the palms up is a more positive gesture, and is inviting – especially with outstretched arms.

When hands are in fists or face down, it tends to be received by the listener more negatively, and may serve to give you more time to speak during your turn in a conversation.

Hands up with the palms forward is a limit-setting gesture. It communicates to your listener to stop what they are doing.

Take a moment to think about how you use your hands when you speak. What is the message you’re communicating to others, beyond what comes out of your mouth?