Workplace Rights

Weekly (3/15/10)

Topic of the Week  Doing The Hand Jive - Using Hand Signals to Create More Effective Meetings:

• I'd like to speak - raise hand with the index finger raised.
• I agree - raise both hands.
• I disagree - raise a fist.
• I have a suggestion - put their hands in a "T" shape.
• I need more info - turn your arms around each other.

Meetings, committees and retreats. Just saying these words undoubtedly conjures up images of wasted time, people speaking up just to hear their own voices and the futility of thinking that you can get a team of people to really focus on a common goal. Which reminds me of a friend's trip to Asia recently. He recounted how important it was to not use your left hand when greeting someone, eating or when gesturing his or her way. Why? Because in some places the left hand is used for other, less hygienic, duties.

What does using the correct hand when greeting someone in Asia have to do with creating more productive meetings? Everything. Because below I'll share a system of hand signals, created by Dale Hunter, to make your next meeting a heck of a lot more participatory and productive. Initially the signals may sound weird, but imagine how cool it would be if everyone could participate in a meeting without having to speak. For more, check out his book, "The Art of Facilitation" (Jossey Bass, 2007).

I'd like to speak. Raise hand with the index finger raised, like you're signaling the number one. This tells the person leading the meeting that you're ready to bring up a topic that directly addressed the topic that is currently being discussed. Having sat through many meetings that wandered from topic to topic, imagine how fun it would be if the conversation actually stayed on track?

I agree. Anytime that you agree with the conversation you are encouraged to raise both hands. Imagine immediate feedback, without each person having to take their turn speaking. It would turn every meeting into a focus group, with immediate feedback. Heck, it could even create some exercise for the participants, not a bad side benefit.

I disagree. Here the person would raise a fist, to signify that they disagree. This offers another great chance to draw out the group, and if necessary, to slow down to address their concerns.

I have a suggestion. The person would put their hands in a "T" shape. This signifies that they want to make a suggestion. This could be a change in the topic being discussed, a way to get more people involved in the conversation, or even the need for a bathroom break (guess who has a small bladder?). But everyone in the group would know that this person wanted to somehow change the dynamic before they ever needed to say a word.

I need more info. Turn your two arms around each other, a.k.a. the pretzel. Have you ever not understood a key concept during a meeting? This would give you a chance to signal that you could use a clarification or explanation.

Use these hand signals in your next presentation and not only will it be more productive, but everyone will also feel like they're really a part of the proceedings. It would also change everyone's view of what it means to lend a hand during your next meeting.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Also check out his newly revised best-seller "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of a national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting."

–Ronald Reagan

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