David Givens

David B. Givens Ph.D.

Your Body at Work

A Business Gesture to Reckon With

A Business Gesture to Reckon With

Posted Jun 10, 2010

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is a self-acknowledged table pounder. A table pounder is one who slaps office furniture with the flat of an open palm for emphasis. It's rather like using a judge's gavel to impose order in court. The authoritative or angry hand comes down sharply on a flat surface to make a firm point. Viewers know instantly what the gesture means, and are glad it came down on a table instead of a head.

An able table-pounder from decades ago was Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union. In the 1960s, Khrushchev had a habit of pounding on his desk to disrupt meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. The gesture he's most famous for is slamming the desktop with his shoe. On September 29, 1960, he brought his right shoe down on the desktop to interrupt a speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, with whom he disagreed.

Roots of table-pounding run deep. In preschool children, the pound gesture is "A sharp blow by one hand against the other immobile hand or against an object such as a table." Slap ground is an aggressive gesture used by langurs and savannah baboons, and is used as a threat gesture by our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee. Like Khrushchev's shoe-slam, the chimp's palm-down slap shows dramatic assertion and attitude.

It's the same in business. To show conviction to colleagues across a board table, use palm-down gestures to emphasize your key speaking points. Without actually striking the tabletop, pronate your open palm--flip it down, parallel to the table's surface-and proffer it as a sign. Reach the gesture forward, while moving it up and down like a baton, to drive home your most important ideas. Without realizing why, listeners will sense you have greater confidence in your words.

You've seen the palm-down gesture on political talk shows like "Meet the Press." As pundits and politicians argue great issues of the day, they authoritatively pronate (rotate one or both hands into slap-ground position), reach out, and gavel with palm-down hands on the air. At staff meetings you, too, can reach out with palm-down gestures to show you mean business.

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