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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 09:44 GMT
You've got to hand it to them...
You can tell when a politician is lying, according to the old joke, because his lips start moving. But according to psychologists a much more reliable give-away is the position of his hands.
Hidden palms, clenched fists and - worst of all - hands kept deliberately out of view, send out the clearest possible signal that a person has something to hide.
The party manifestos - carefully groomed to give the right impression rather than minute detail over policy - are full of pictures of the party leaders striking dramatic gestures with their hands.
"As much as 80% of communication is in the body language," says Robert Phipps, a specialist who advises salespeople and politicians on effective communication.
Another of Mr Phipps's rules is "Nothing Crossed". He tells clients that they must keep their arms and legs relaxed and uncrossed. If possible they should leave their jacket open and unbuttoned: "It relays the message 'I am being open and honest with you'."
Mr Phipps' company, SMARTraining, runs courses and says many politicians undergo body language training.
"To look sincere you absolutely must keep your hands in view. It is very basic stuff. When somebody is trying to explain something that is true he will naturally have his palms open and hands to his side. The emotions take over and the gesture is automatic."
Conversely "darting eyes, palms not visible, shifting from one foot to another, hand covering mouth or fingers tugging at the ear" make somebody look dishonest because these are types of behaviour naturally on display when somebody is lying.
Hand gestures can convey all sorts of subtle meanings and so must be carefully judged.
If the palms are turned too far upwards or the arms raised too high, this is a sign of surrender and therefore weakness.
All in the palm
Much better, says Mr Phipps, is the "come with me" gesture which, he claims, Tony Blair has perfected.
This involves first showing that the hands are empty and then, in a seamless movement, cupping them slightly and moving them towards the body.
"It depends on context. Downward palms can come over as authoritarian and slightly threatening. But in time of crisis it could be reassuring."
Other psychologists have attempted to systematically categorise hand gestures - many of them involuntary - and their subconscious meanings.
But the category that many politicians might find most appropriate involves "gestures with or without speech which are used in theatre to communicate a story".
The psychologists define these sort of movements as pantomime.
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