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Leadership Success in the Palm of Your Hand

by | Oct 15, 2014 | Power Posing

Understanding Palms-Up and Palms-Down Hand Gestures for Business Leaders and Politicians

You may not have much interest in what your life line, heart line, head line, and fate line indicate to a palm reader, but that doesn’t mean you don’t communicate important information with your palms every day at work.

No, this isn’t about palmistry. This is about palms-up and palms-down hand gestures, which are important facets of a leader’s body language. Both have useful applications and times when they’re best avoided. Knowing when to employ each one and training yourself to do so automatically enhances the perception of your competence and effectiveness as a leader.

Here’s a look at how to use these gestures if you’re in charge in a business or political setting:

susan-constantine-palms-up-posePalms-Up Hand Gestures

Turning your palms upward while speaking is a humble, open gesture. It says you’re looking for feedback, assistance, or other collaboration. When you are in fact looking for these things, palms-up body language is welcoming and reassuring to those around you. It fosters honest, mutually respectful, cooperative relationships with employees, advisors, or others you lead.

In other words, this is a submissive gesture that relinquishes some control. So, when used at the wrong time, it conveys weakness, confusion, or helplessness. In some instances, it’s reminiscent of begging or shrugging, which are not at all power poses. If you’re not looking for input or help, but are explaining something, issuing directives, or otherwise actively leading, turning your palms upward undermines your authority and the appearance of confidence and competence.

susan-constantine-palms-down-posePalms-Down Hand Gestures

Open palms facing downward are assertive, projecting authority, confidence, competence, superiority, and power. They say you’re in control and insist on being heard. The palms-down hand gesture is an essential power pose for nonverbally reinforcing the gravity of directives and the position at the top of the chain of command.

Palms-down body language is literally and figuratively the opposite of the palms-up gesture. So, while it’s optimal for assigning tasks and otherwise actively leading, it’s counterproductive when you want to invite cooperation and collaboration from subordinates or followers. If your words are asking for help but your palms are turned down, almost as if to stifle those around you, the incongruous message prevents people from comfortably offering honest, valuable input.