Recently a pair of hands went up on the side of a building just outside Berlin’s main railway station, very close to Germany’s government and parliament buildings. Another pair of hands, known as the “Merkel rhombus” has become a recognisable trademark of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as reported in the Economist recently. It is the way she joins her hands together during meetings, speeches and presentations.
This prompted me to write about our hands and what they may say about us. Do they complement what we are saying, or do they perhaps say the opposite. I like Angela Merkel’s straightforward, unpretentious approach. This posture serves several purposes – it suggests openness on her part, helps posture for all those long engagements…and gives her something to do with her hands!
Hands are fascinating. So much so that Holdsway decided to use images of hands to underpin its brand. It may also be the only part of the human body which is given a different name depending on use and intention. It’s called a hand when you greet someone, shake someone else’s hand or hold something. It’s called a fist when you clench it to defend or attack.
What is compelling about hands is that often they have a life of their own. They either reflect what we are saying or they underline what we’re really thinking and perhaps not saying. Open hands to suggest “let’s talk, let’s be open with each other”. Folded arms, the opposite, “I’m not really listening” – unless of course, you are like Angela Merkel and just need something to do with your hands and arms. Open hands in the air, fingers apart, “let me paint you a picture of my vision”. Forefinger resting across the lower lip suggests “I’m listening, and considering my response”.
Every day I interview and assess senior executives who are successful interim managers, and others who want to be. I am looking at both verbal and non-verbal messages that these experienced business people are giving me. Sometimes I ask for three simple words (see previous post). Often I am observing to see if hands and words match. It’s not an exact science so there is no exact answer all the time. But it helps to know how to put the two together and interpret which interim managers will do well. No doubt they are observing me too – I tend to use my hands a lot when I speak!
Hands will sometimes tell more of a story than someone’s face. Particularly if someone is determined to hide their thoughts or offers you a ‘poker face’, an expressionless look which gives nothing away. A study published in Psychological Science by Michael Slepian of Stanford University (The Economist, April 2013) suggests that even people with the best ‘poker faces’ give the game away with their hands. Video footage of hands and faces were shown to students, who then had to guess the quality of players’ cards. They were clearly better at judging players’ hands when they could see their and hands and how smooth their hand movements were.
Hands are a great metaphor. Good interim managers are known for ‘getting their hands dirty’. They’re also ‘hands-on’.
The next time you meet friends or are in a business meeting, see what you are doing with your hands. They may even suggest you really think the opposite to what you are actually saying. That’s an interesting one.
Interim managers are auditioning for a part each time they interview – whether with me or with one of my clients. If you are reading this post it is likely that you have been hired for your acting skills – the impact and personality you have presented during interviews. Hopefully this was your own style. Interestingly Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States and famously a great communicator, rarely used his hands.
The best advice to executives is to use your hands to illustrate what you are saying, if that comes naturally, and be yourself.