The ‘hands on hips’ body language gesture is among the most common gestures that we often encounter. I’m pretty sure that most people, at least intuitively, know what it means. Still, the certainty of conscious knowledge is better than intuition. The former makes it less likely for you to ignore a gesture the next time you notice it.
A person who is ready for assertive action is likely to assume this gesture. We only take assertive action when we feel the need to assert ourselves. We only feel the need to assert ourselves when our rights are violated or we encounter an unpleasant situation that requires us to set things straight.
So it can be said that the person who assumes this gesture is angry or irritated. By resting the hands on the hips and sometimes opening up the feet to take a wider stance, we try to appear bigger by taking up more space.
In an earlier post about rubbing the neck, I mentioned that animals try to appear bigger during a fight as their fur stands on its end near the skin. The whole purpose of trying to appear bigger is to intimidate the other person whom you’re ready to attack.
When you see two people arguing, the person who takes up this gesture is the one who feels more offended. They’re also more likely to be the one who strikes the first blow in case the altercation turns physical.
Now this action may not always be an assertive one.
For example, we observe this gesture when an athlete is waiting for an event to begin or when a boxer is waiting for another round to start. But most of the time this gesture has something to do with being assertive in one way or the other. If you recall the images of action heroes like Batman or Superman you’ll often see them in the hands-on-the-hips gesture because they’re always ‘ready for action’, always ready to defeat the ‘evil guys’ in an assertive manner.
A policeman on duty often assumes this gesture, signaling the attitude of “I’m-going-to bust-any-crook-who-messes-around”.
Sometimes a person assumes this gesture simply because they’re too tired to rest their arms on their sides without support. We notice this in runners when they’re tired after a long run. So keep the context in mind when you interpret this gesture.
Clenched hands on hips gesture
If a person doing this gesture has their hands clenched in a fist-like position, it signals hostility in addition to assertiveness. It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to placate this person.
It is as if the person is ready to punch you with his closed fists. If you irritate this person even a tad more, you might have to face drastic consequences. It’s a good idea to give this person something to hold, forcing them to unclench their fist. This can break their hostile attitude.
Assertive + Hostile
Sometimes a person can be ready for action but doesn’t quite know yet what the heck’s going on. For instance, if you see your friend arguing with someone you might immediately rush to defend him without actually knowing what’s happening. This inquisitiveness may get reflected in your body language.
Your hands will rest on your hips vertically instead of the conventional position. This gesture indicates an assertive but also curious attitude and is done by a person when he wants to do something but doesn’t know what’s going on or isn’t sure what exactly he should be doing.
Hanan Parvez (M.B.A., M.A. Psychology) has written 300+ articles at www.psychmechanics.com, a blog with over 3 million views and 100k monthly visitors. His work has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.