Silent Communication Part VI

This month’s column will continue the discussion of communication through the use of our hands but focus on how we sometimes fidget with our hands and what that could mean.

If someone is speaking and begins to touch, scratch or pinch his or her nose, it often indicates that the person speaking is exaggerating or lying. One should not automatically conclude this, however, because the person speaking could genuinely have an itchy nose. If the listener has some reason to doubt the accuracy or sincerity of the speaker’s message, watching for this signal could, at least, put the listener on alert.

Pinching or rubbing the nose means something different if it is done by the listener. It usually indicates that the listener is suppressing a thought or holding back expressing a response to what is being heard. The listener wants to say something, but considers it better to remain silent, at least for the moment. If the listener’s hand moves down from the nose and covers the mouth, that gesture solidifies the conclusion that the listener is holding back from responding to the speaker.

If a listener closes his or her eyes and pinches the bridge of his or her nose, it usually indicates disagreement with what is being said. Often, the listener will open his or her eyes after a few seconds but continue to pinch the bridge of the nose. This gesture is more common when the listener has a desk or table in front of him or her and rests the elbow on the surface. In this position, the fingers are right in line with the nose facilitating the pinching of the nose. Teachers should watch for this gesture from students during a lecture.

Carol Burnett would tug her ear at the end of each of her television performances. For her, it began as a way to say “hello” to her grandmother who would be watching the program. As time went on, it became a trademark gesture of the entertainer. For all others, if a person is tugging his or her ear when speaking, it often indicates a degree of uncertainty or lack of confidence in what they are saying.

Whether a person is speaking or listening, the gesture of stroking a beard, or rubbing the chin if no beard is present, usually indicates concentration or thoughtfulness. But if the hand moves to the neck, and the person begins to scratch his or her neck, it is often indicative of distrust of what is being said.

If a person begins rubbing his or her hands together, it usually indicates a positive expectation as though the person is figuratively cleaning off the hands to receive the item which, in the case of a conversation, would be some type of good news. A similar gesture, however, can have a very different meaning. If a person begins to wring his or her hands, alternating which hand is on top, it is indicative of worry or despair.

Finally, if someone does nothing with his or her hands and, instead, puts the hands in his or her pockets, it often signals boredom. It could also mean that the person is very comfortable in the social setting. By putting the hands in the pocket, the person is comfortable enough that he or she does not believe it will become necessary to use the hands in any defensive situations. President Kennedy is often pictured with a hand or both hands in his pockets which seemed to portray the notion that he had everything under control so that he could relax his stance.

Next month’s column will conclude this series with a discussion of the non-verbal ways we communicate with our eyes.

MR. LENELL, C.P.A., Ph.D., is the director for financial and administrative services for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Dr. Lenell’s book Income Taxes for Priests Only is published by “Fathers Guide.” He lectures and conducts workshops and does consulting to several dioceses on priests’ taxes, compensation, and retirement planning. Write to Dr. Lenell, c/o The Priest magazine with questions, or e-mail him at