Learn to control your finger pointing

Bill CLinton Finger PointingDon’t point your finger at me! I don’t like it. I especially don’t like it when you “wiggle”your finger” in my face.

Most people share my feelings. Who likes to be publicly scolded?

Why do I  – and others – have such a strong reaction to this gesture? According to Carol Kinsey Goman in “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets of Body Language at Work,”

“… I’ve often seen politicians and executives use this gesture in meetings, negotiations, or interviews for emphasis or to show dominance. The problem is that rather than being a sign of authority, aggressive finger pointing (with one or four fingers) suggests that the person is losing control of the situation, and it smacks of playground bullying.”

  • Losing control of the situation
  • Smacks of playground bullying

These are hardly signs of strength and authority! Certainly not what the speaker intended. What about the “finger-pointer-in-chief” – former President Bill Clinton? What is he actually communicating, non-verbally – when he wags his index finger at a reporter or at someone in the audience?

That he is losing control of the situation. That he is trying to be overly aggressive; trying to intimidate; trying to regain control of a situation that is quickly deteriorating.

It is not a gesture of strength. And… once we realize what this nonverbal communication is really telling us, how do we feel about the speaker who is wagging their finger at us?

Well, what did the playground bully do once you called him or her on their actions? They immediately backed down. They demonstrated that they had lost control and that they never had the power to intimidate you.

Unfortunately, most of us never call a “powerful” politician or business executive on their actions. Why not? Perhaps this is because (unfortunately) few of us ever called a schoolyard bully on their actions.

We may suspect that this is just a “fit of anger.” That is just an “act.”

It is an act – an act of desperation!

Once we understand and learn to correctly interpret a person’s “body language” we can turn this “acting” to our advantage. We can gain leverage during our negotiations. We can gain the “nonverbal advantage!”

Of course, we must look at the context of the gesture. An isolated instance of finger pointing does not signal “losing control.” However, combined with a flushed face and an elevation in the pitch of the voice and the use of deliberate language… Now that is telling us something about the “finger pointer.” It is quite revealling about their real feelings. About their loss of control. About their bullying behavior.

Certainly, he is not the only “finger-pointer,” but why doesn’t former President Clinton take steps to minimize his finger-pointing?  Why doesn’t one of his close aides or family members “point this out” to him? (Pun intended!)

Why do playground bullies persist? Why do business executives seem to get away with this kind of behavior? Why do so many parents lose control of a situation when talking with their children?


Now that you have gained some insight into how to interpret this angry gesture, will you react differently the next time?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. Even if you do not react differently – by calling them on their finger pointing, at least you now know that “finger pointing” is just a mask for someone losing control of the situation. Someone who is possibly hiding something. Someone who is afraid.  If you react properly, you can turn this to your advantage. You can gain the upper hand – not just the fingers!

To read a related article that I published on this subject, click here.

Please share your comments about “finger pointing” with our readers. Add your comments below.


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