What are gestures

Gesture: What she tells us

Whether we shake our heads in disbelief, nod enthusiastically or happily wave to a colleague: gesture as the sum of all possible movements accompanies us constantly in interpersonal communication. Within the same cultural area, those communicating know how to correctly interpret the respective gestures and hand signals. It looks different when you leave this cultural area: Apparently unambiguous gestures can quickly lead to misunderstandings and a compliment suddenly turns into an obscene gesture. Gestures and facial expressions are the dream couple in non-verbal communication. Time to take a closer look at what gestures tell us about other people ...

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Gesture Meaning: What is gesture?

The Duden describes gestures as “the entirety of gestures that express a characteristic inner attitude”. Similar to fruit Gesture a singular rhetoric, that is, there is no plural.

Gesture gesture) includes all Movements of hands, feet and head, but also the position, that is, how we stand and sit. It is therefore part of non-verbal communication.

Even if we don't seem to say anything we communicate with our body. Mostly it is an interplay of our facial expressions, gestures and posture with which we convey something of our self-image, of our social status, to the outside world.

The following applies:

  • High status

    The person moves slowly, calmly. The mouth is smiling relaxed, the posture is upright when standing. When seated, a person of high status leans back and relaxes. Your gestures are symmetrical, that is, both legs are firmly on the floor, your hands in front of your body. When he speaks, that person has a steady, clear voice.

  • Low status

    A person of low social status is more likely to move quickly or even frantically. The feet tend to point inwards or are neatly placed next to each other. The person exudes insecurity by taking up little space for himself; on a sofa she will often sit in the middle. When she speaks, it is in a low, shaky and / or husky voice.

It goes without saying that we encounter them in everyday life many different intermediate stagesthat can be recognized by a correspondingly strong or weak gesture in certain areas.

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Differentiation of gestures in five forms

Since we sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously use gestures in communication with other people, it is important to learn about the effect of various gestures to be clear. Without really having to pretend: Especially when it comes to negotiations or conflict situations, you will avoid certain signals, but you will definitely want to send out others.

In 1969, the American anthropologist and psychologist Paul Ekman and his colleague Wallace V. Friesen developed a distinction between gestures in five forms:

  • Illustrators

    This includes gestures that illustrate what has been said. Open eyes in amazement belong in this area or when you make it clear with a sweeping gesture how big the pile is on your desk.

  • Emblems

    Emblems are a bit stronger: These are gestures made up of culturally and socially determined signals. While in this country nod as Yes applies, it is elsewhere as No interpreted. Emblems replace words, they form a simplified form of communication in sign language, for example pointing a finger at something or the extended middle finger as an insult.

  • Adapters

    This is to be understood as the learned part of the gesture, which was mostly learned in childhood and nowadays often happens unconsciously. This would include when a person generally starts cracking their knuckles or kneading their earlobe when they are feeling restless.

  • Regulators

    The term “regulation” already resonates in this area of ​​gesture. It's about gestures that have a regulating effect. For example, to the speaker by signaling with a gesture that the listener has not understood something. The speaker now knows that he has to repeat something. Or regulating the listener, by signaling him with gestures not to interrupt the speaker yet, but to be patient for a moment.

  • Affect gestures

    If something happens in the affect, it cannot be suppressed - also with this form of gesture that expresses emotions. These are often micro-gestures such as the mouth opened in surprise or eyebrows drawn together if they are incomprehensible. These gestures are strongly linked to emotions, but not to verbal utterances.

Gesture examples: Low and high status

When interacting with other people, especially in a professional context, appropriate gestures are important if we want to be perceived as experienced professionals in our field.

Who is in the interviewkeep clearing your throat has to and answers with a shaky voice, brushing his hair erratically, will radiate anything but sovereignty.

Or imagine an employee in a meeting who has clearly noticeable stains of sweat under his arms and who is constantly playing nervously with a ballpoint pen. He also lowers the Look downwhile talking to others, it shows great uncertainty.

The status of these two people would be assessed very differently if they behaved like this in the same situations:

The applicant in the interview answers with firm, clear voice. A drink is usually offered beforehand so that the throat can be moistened before the applicant has to speak.

Since he has prepared for the situation beforehand, he feels safe enough. He is much calmer and can keep his fingers and hands in check. You are relaxes in front of the body, for example on the back of the chair or folded in your lap.

The same applies to the employee in the meeting: sweat cannot always be avoided due to the heat or climate, even if you should have a spare shirt for emergencies in the office. However, one does not speak of it for nothing Entertainment at eye level:

Looking away in conversation, not being able to keep eye contact, shows great awe. Do not make yourself small, but return eye contact.

Gesture and culture: closely linked to the development of language

Researchers believe that the Development of language and gestures in parallel proceeded. It is currently assumed that around 500,000 years ago, early humans developed the first sounds and thus gestures.

In support of these theories, that both speak symbolic and pantomime gestures processed in the same areas of the brain as verbal communication.

Another circumstance is the fact that even people who are blind from birth and could never learn gestures by copying them over a Minimum repertoire of gestures feature. The American psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow was able to establish that the gestures of blind children fulfill central functions that natural languages ​​also have:

Gestures are used for Wishes, comments and queries regarding what is happening. However, it is also used to talk about things that are in the past or future or that are theoretically possible.

In 2008 Goldin-Meadow had ten English, Spanish, Chinese and Turkish test subjects re-enacted film scenes with hands and feet for a study. The aim of the study was to find out if there was anything like one Grammar of gestures could give.

The surprising result: although the test subjects were out completely different language families originated, the gestures always followed the description subject, object, verb. That was all the more unusual because all mother tongues except Turkish use the order subject, verb, object.

For Goldin-Meadow this is reason to assume that, according to a grammar of gestures, basically the executor first then the object and finally the act itself.

Tell-tale Gestures: Typical Gestures and What They Mean

You will know many gestures from yourself or have already observed them in others. Some of them have a negative effect in this country, especially those behaviors that are called Defense or aggression be interpreted. Other signals are seen as positive or neutral:

  • Negative gestures

    • Drumming your fingers: This shows impatience or restlessness, possibly provocation.
    • Shape a pointed roof with your fingers and point it at the person you are talking to: This often signals defensiveness, low approval, and possibly self-assurance.
    • Arms crossed in front of the chest:A classic defensive stance; typical for women when they are cold or anxious.
    • Extensive gestures: A gesture of dominance that is often seen in men.
    • Point your finger at others: Is perceived as aggressive by the other person.
    • Use the raised index finger: Has an instructive effect and is therefore seen as a sign of arrogance.
    • Arms raised with palms facing forward: A defensive attitude that signals to other people: No further!
  • Positive gestures

    • Movements of the arms and hands above the waist: The person exudes self-confidence.
    • Hands are folded over the head: The person rests in himself, exudes great sovereignty.
    • Normally strong handshake: The person signals healthy self-confidence. However, if it is too strong, it can be interpreted as aggression.
    • Rubbing hands: Is a sign of complacency, but may seem unsympathetic to others.
  • Neutral gestures

    • Put your finger to your nose: The person focuses.
    • Scratching the head: The person is perplexed and insecure. - Persons in a responsible position should not show these gestures too often.
    • Rubbing the chin: The person thinks and is satisfied.
    • Raised arms with hands slightly upwards: Something is unclear to the person, they are formulating a question.

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A free e-book on body language you can also download it HERE as a PDF.

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