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Body language: The steeple gesture of the hands

Imagine the following scenario:

You’re playing chess and have reached a crucial moment of the game. It’s your turn and you’re thinking of making a move that you consider brilliant, one that'll give you an edge over your opponent.

You have no idea that this move is actually a trap that your opponent laid for you. As soon as you move your hand over the chess piece, you notice that your opponent takes up a gesture the meaning of which is known very well to you.

You reconsider your move, think over its consequences and decide not to make it! You finally realize that it was a trap. You’re no chess grand-master but the simple knowledge of a body language gesture gave you an advantage over your opponent.

So, what was the gesture?

It’s known as ‘the steeple’ and is usually done in a seated position. The finger-tips touch each other as the hands are placed out in front, forming a 'church steeple' like structure. This gesture is done by those who feel very confident about what’s going on. It's usually done in a conversation when someone feels confident about the topic he’s talking about.

It is also commonly observed in superior-subordinate relationships and is done by superiors when they are giving instructions or advice to subordinates. When a person answers a question using ‘the steeple’ gesture, know that he knows, or at least thinks he knows, what he’s talking about.

the steeple gesture

In the above chess game example, when you placed your hand over the chess piece that you intended to move, your opponent instantly took the steeple gesture. He told you non-verbally that he feels confident about the move that you are about to make! This made you suspicious and so you re-thought and re-considered your move.

The subtle steeple

There is another, more subtle variation of this gesture that is most commonly observed during conversations. One hand grips the other from the top as shown in the image below:

the subtle steeple

It is done by a person who feels confident about what's going on but at the same time also has some doubts in the back of his mind. While the conventional steeple indicates that a person feels confident, the subtle steeple indicates that a person is feeling not-so-confident confident. The gripping in this gesture is an attempt to regain control that is lost because of the doubts. 

The steeple and debates

The knowledge of the meaning behind the steeple gesture can be very useful in debates, discussions, and negotiations. Watch when people make the steeple gesture as they are talking and note the corresponding points and topics. These are their strong points. There’s no point in wasting your efforts trying to argue against these points because they've probably backed up these points with strong proofs, reasons or statistics.

Instead, if you focus on the topics that they're not so sure about and argue against those, then your odds of gaining the upper hand in the debate will increase. Also, people tend to be very stubborn about the things that they’re cocksure about. So when you’re trying to convince someone, you can avoid such topics and focus on the ones they themselves are unsure about.

I’m not saying that you should always avoid the topics that the other person is sure about. If the person is open-minded, he’ll still listen to you if he holds a contrary opinion strongly. But most people are far from open-minded. They’ll hold on to their opinions very stubbornly so knowing beforehand what topics they are not willing to put up on the table for scrutiny can save you a lot of time and energy.

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