Arm and hand gestures are every bit as revealing as speech and facial expressions. Generally, the more relaxed hands and arms are, and the less exaggerated the motions of the hands and arms, the more open, truthful, and comfortable the person is.
When a person holds their arms still, whether crossed, or by their side, they are indicating discomfort. This could be due to being in the presence of someone of higher status – like a student with a school principal – or it could be due to nervousness, hostility, or dislike.
Arms held still with minimum, or exaggeratedly small gestures indicate that a person may be lying. A liar may even hold one arm with the other in order to keep both arms still. This person looks like they are trying to minimize the space they take up.
People wave their arms like windmills when they are excited and confident, but when they lack confidence, people make smaller arm and hand gestures. A person quickly raising both arms in the air is trying to tell you that they are frustrated. You see this gesture in business and social situations.
The most recognizable hand-arm signal is arms firmly crossed in front of the body. Crossed arms can signal many things, but they almost always signal a degree of discomfort, whether in a social or business situation.
Meanings attributed to crossed arms include: defensiveness; anxiety; distrust; vulnerability; and even suppression of rage. The rigidness of the crossed arms indicates the degree to which a person is closed off. Arms folded with hands made into fists indicate real hostility, particularly when accompanied by crossed legs.
A hand-arm gesture that indicates confidence and self-assurance is that of hands loosely clasped behind the back, head held high. This is a posture used by teachers evaluating students’ work and policemen patrolling on foot. The fact that the front of the body is left unshielded signals a sense of authority and self-esteem.
Arm and hand gestures are a language unto themselves. You can watch very old silent movies and see how important the movements of the hands and arms are. Even without hearing speech, you can often get an accurate idea of exactly what is being communicated when arms and hands do the talking.