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Friday, June 05, 2009

JETNETTING: The First Impression Factor: XIII Gestures Part 1

JetNetting with Heshie Segal

First impressions are crucial. When the words you utter are not congruent with your gestures (or for that fact, your body language in general), the latter will negate what you are saying and you will appear untrustworthy. Once you understand the importance of trust, and how business can be created or lost in the first impression, you will want to possess every tool available to make sure you are on target. Your awareness of how you appear to others, what you have to do to gain trust, and having the ability to interpret the language of gestures, gives you a decided advantage.

Every thought is manifested by a physical reaction in the body, generally expressed in some form of gesture. We define a gesture as an act or movement of the body that reflects, expresses or emphasizes an idea, sentiment or attitude. Gestures help capture a listener’s attention, make conversation more interesting and facilitate comprehension when used for emphasis and/or for the clarification of points.

When gestures are congruent with the words that accompany them, they are recognized as sincere and are hence convincing. Ideally, every movement you make is deliberate, thoughtful and reinforces the message you are conveying.

I am frequently addressed by a statement and a question: I get the importance about congruence. What are the do’s and don’ts related to gestures?

Gestures should not be overdone; not too extreme, and not so small that they are unnoticeable. They must be suited to the audience. For example, slower paced or methodical people and/or seniors often feel threatened by exaggerated gestures; on the other hand, emotionally responsive people and especially children, get excited by exaggeration.

Gestures should be seen as part of the spoken word, not as a separate entity; in other words,

there should be congruence in word, content and action. When gesturing is an integral

part of the spoken word, it will indeed not be noticed as a separate entity; in fact, it might not even be noticed in a conscious sense and, definitely not missed and responded to by the sub-conscious. There is freedom in this congruency and together they provide the solid credibility most of us seek.

When evaluating the meaning of a gesture, avoid attaching significance to a single movement, because it could simply reflect one specific habit or compulsive behaviour pattern.

Like words, gestures do not stand alone. While you may learn that specific gestures are "supposed" to mean “this or that”, when interpreting them, they need to be assessed in the context of a situation since the same gestures take on many meanings. Enter the gesture cluster.

Gesture clusters are combinations of non-verbal communication that provide a more meaningful interpretation when observed in a continuum of actions. They are modified by differing temperaments, personalities and/or attitudes. Consider this: Someone says he is open to listening, yet sits with folded arms, crossed legs, and uses a pointed finger; this is both incongruent and suspicious. Interestingly, I’m sure some of you have already recognized that gesture-clusters can communicate on their own, without even a single word being uttered.

Understanding the true meaning of gestures is subject to time, place, context of the conversation and circumstance. To complicate the issue even more, they are further affected by cultures and countries.

1. Nodding can mean interest or approval, and even disapproval in some cultures.

  1. A kiss is a gesture of affection in the West. In much of Eastern Asia a kiss is not appropriate outside the bedroom. In Kuwait, you will be in trouble if you kiss someone of the opposite sex in public
  2. How you behave at someone else’s dinner party may be very different from how you

behave at home.

While gestures might be understood to have some meanings in common, it is important to know they are also prone to numerous exceptions, misconceptions, confusion and variations in emphasis. Jumping to conclusions and reacting to them can go from simple embarrassment to a disastrous predicament. For example, when someone who wears glasses lowers their head and peers over the rim, it may indicate scepticism or, if they are not wearing bifocals, they may just want to see you better. Not jumping to quick conclusions is generally a prudent action.

As you react to the gestures of others, realize those same people, are simultaneously reacting to your gestures. You and the person with whom you are interacting might have similar views on a subject and, because of style differences, the gestures you and they use, will be different; even if only slightly.

When you understand what your gestures are ’“saying”, you have a better chance of creating alignment with your words. Remember there are always exceptions to what seem to be the rules. The main learning points are:

Make sure your intention (your thoughts) and your words are in harmony. This will lead to synchronicity of actions and, since you are no longer focusing on manipulative tactics, it allows you to hone in on accurately interpreting the gesture-language of the other(s).

Relational power, self-assuredness and heightened levels of influence are at stake.

There are hundreds of gestures, each with numerous meanings. a very lengthy list with extensive descriptions will be found in my upcoming book. Some basic examples follow.

what gestures (GENERALLY) mean:

Chin stroking (with thumb and index finger)

Evaluating the situation

Trying to make a decision

Ear rubbing is a sign of impatience or "I've heard enough".

Ear tugging



Urge to interrupt (not a repetitious motion)





Hair twirling or curling around fingers

Sexual connotation


Lack of confidence

Head tilted

Shows interest

Kicking something



Contemplation (when someone aimlessly kicks something around)

Nail biting



Neck (Rubbing the back of your neck)


Nose rubbing (slow, light touch)


Rubbing your nose during a lengthy conversation often indicates lying or deceitfulness.

Nose (Pinching the bridge of the nose)

Doubting the truth of what someone is saying.

Rubbing or scratching head


Inability to get a point across

Stroking Chin


Stroking ends when a decision has been reached



Need for reassurance

Unbuttoning a coat or jacket, taking off a jacket


Aaah, and this is just the beginning. In Gestures, Part II, Hand Movements will be covered. Understanding and managing every aspect of communication is not only the path to creating great first impressions, it’s also the path to close, long term and very lucrative relationships. Stay tuned.

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