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When hands do the talking

Updated on: 18 September,2021 08:14 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sukanya Datta |

Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel will be remembered for her diamond hand gesture. An expert decodes what it reveals about her personality, along with signature body language moves of other public figures

When hands do the talking

Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraces his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau

In her 16 years as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel has not only made a lasting impact on global politics, but also found a rather iconic solution to the eternal awkward question: what to do with your hands while on a public platform? The leader’s Merkel diamond/rhombus hand posture — the fingertips of both hands touching to form a quadrangular shape — which she typically holds near her stomach has become one of the most recognisable gestures in the world. Adorning bus stands, façades and posters, and with its own Wikipedia page, the diamond has long been encased to portray that Germany was in good hands. But what does the diamond, and other such identifiable body language markers, reveal about Merkel and public personalities like her? Body language consultant Khyati Bhatt, founder and CEO, Simply Body Talk, gives us the lowdown.


Barack Obama does an elbow-tap handshake with Mitt Romney. Pics Courtesy/Getty Images
Barack Obama does an elbow-tap handshake with Mitt Romney. Pics Courtesy/Getty Images


Shine like a diamond


Signature styles like Merkel’s develop over time, if the person is appreciated for it, given training, or/and it becomes a natural extension of their personality, Bhatt says. She shares that the diamond gesture is popularly called the steeple in body language terminology.

Angela Merkel with her trademark Merkel diamond gesture. Pic Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons
Angela Merkel with her trademark Merkel diamond gesture. Pic Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons

Merkel holds the steeple at a slightly downward angle, which, from the top, appears like a diamond. “It denotes a show of confidence. So, when Merkel is not speaking and yet wants to show that she’s in control, the steeple helps to relay that. Since the hands are visible, it helps build trust in the audience,” she explains.

Say it with a hug

From former US President Donald Trump to Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau, Indian PM Narendra Modi’s trademark greeting style — bear hugs — is hard to miss. Bhatt tells us that bear hugs help to exchange warmth and establish friendliness, as opposed to a side hug. “A thump on the back of his counterpart establishes that Modi is the one in control. The fact that he’s initiating the hug shows that he’s on top of the conversation,” she claims, adding that however, such a gesture can turn awkward.

Khyati Bhatt
Khyati Bhatt

Tap and shake

There are two gestures that are characteristic of former US President Barack Obama. The elbow-tap handshake, points out Bhatt, involves two levels of touch — a handshake and tapping the elbow-to-shoulder area. “It makes you look approachable and makes the other person comfortable.” He also has a signature style of letting people come in a bit close to him when he shakes hands with them. This helps them feel important: “It implies that he would let them into his personal space.”

A double thumbs-up