Body language: Rubbing hands together

Last updated:

Rubbing hands

Rubbing the palm of your hands together shows that you are expecting something positive. When you have to deliver some good news to someone that you believe is good for you too, you are likely to rub your palms together excitedly.

When you’re about to watch a movie that you wanted to see for a long time, you might rub your hands together as soon as the movie starts. Or, to give you a simple example, when you are about to eat your favourite meal you might do this gesture as you hum “mmm…”

rubbing hands

The speed at which a person rubs their palms together can convey different meanings. While rubbing the palms quickly can express positive expectation, rubbing them slowly could indicate doubt.

Suppose you are negotiating a deal with a businessman. You tell him exactly what you want out of the deal and lay down your conditions clearly. The businessman examines your terms and tells you, “I can give you what you want” as he rubs his palms together rapidly.

At this point, you can be sure that the deal he is about to offer you is going to be great for him too otherwise he wouldn’t rub his hands that way. Now after he presents the deal, let’s say you tell him, “Oh! I forgot to mention one other condition…” and you mention the condition that is not-so-favourable to the businessman.

At this point, you might observe the businessman rubbing his hands slowly with a concerned expression on his face. It is clear that he now believes that the deal is good for you and no longer good for him. It’ll be a good idea to ask what’s bothering him before he verbalizes his “no”.

Once people have said “no”, it’s hard to convince them and make them change their statement. You might even consider withdrawing the latest condition that you made if you have to, just to save the deal.

So, in this case, you will able to detect rejection before it happens so that you can modify your approach before the other party makes any ‘concrete’ decision.

Rubbing hands with fingers

This gesture happens in slow motion and signals doubt or uncertainty. The fingers of one hand (usually the right) rub slowly in the upward and downward motion on the palm of the other hand. This gesture is often accompanied by the ‘clenched hands’ gesture that conveys self-restraint.

You might see people doing this gesture when they need to make a hard decision but are confused. When you’re asking someone to make a decision and they do this gesture and then clench their hands, you need to modify your approach immediately so that they can break their position of self-restraint.

Interestingly, giving them something to hold, like a pen or a cup of coffee, can also be effective in letting them develop a more ‘open’ attitude. In body language, changing the gestures leads to a change in the emotional state just as a change in the emotional state results in a change of gestures.

Rubbing the palms on the lap

While seated, people might rub their hands on their lap when they are stressed or nervous. It is a very accurate indicator of discomfort and is often missed under the table. When we are trying to express our harmless attitude to an animal, we rub its fur repeatedly with our palms. We expect that this will pacify the animal.

Similarly, when we rub our palms on our lap, we are trying to pacify ourselves because we are emotionally uncomfortable. You might observe this gesture when a seated couple is bothered or interrupted by an unwelcome intruder or when someone is struggling to remember a name.

Hiding the palms

Displaying the palms is a universal gesture of honesty and openness. When someone talks with palm displays, you can be fairly certain that the person is telling the truth. If palm displays signal honesty, it follows that hiding the palms signal dishonesty, right? Not necessarily.

In some cases hiding the palms could mean that the person is lying but it is not a reliable cue because a person might unconsciously want to hide from you not only because they might be lying but for several other reasons too. If a person is nervous, shy or has self-image issues, they might hide their palms in their pockets even if they’re telling the truth.

In fact, having a self-image issue is the most common reason why a person hides his hands in his pockets. If someone doesn’t like the way they look, have dressed or have made up their hair or even believe that they’re in an awkward situation then they might try to ‘hide’ by putting their hands into their pockets.

mj hiding hands

The subconscious mind has got its own reasons that seem illogical to the conscious mind. It thinks that by making you put your hands in your pockets, it is helping you to hide.