The simple act of placing the fingertips of either hand
together in front of you to form a steeple is a very effective gesture that is
rarely offensive and will establish you as someone [who is] both evaluative and
in control. --Susan Bixler (The
Professional Image, p. 238)
Gesture. A position in which the tactile pads of the fingertips of one hand gently touch their counterparts on the other.
Usage: The steeple cue, perhaps first identified by Ray L.
Birdwhistell (Blum 1988) reflects precise thought patterns. It may be used while
listening, speaking, or thinking, to entertain a provocative or novel idea, or
to contemplate a creative solution to problems at hand.
Business. Steeple gestures may be used above a conference table to show that one is listening thoughtfully to a colleague's ideas and comments.
Media. 1. In a classic black-and-white photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, physicist Robert Oppenheimer steepled his fingers while conversing with Albert Einstein on December 29, 1947. 2. In a Today Show interview with Katie Couric on June 24, 2003, Bernard Kerak, U.S. administrator for Iraq, steepled as he calmly explained that the postwar situation in Iraq was largely in control. When Katie asked about the exploding crime rate there, Kerak broke the steeple and vigorously scratched the palm of his hand. After explaining his side of the issue, he resumed steepling until the interview concluded. (On June 25, 2003, USA Today's lead article was about the escalating crime rate in Iraq.)
Observation. 1. The condominium president
steepled his fingers at chest level at his body's midline and replied,
"I know what I'm going to do about the board meeting." 2. The
CEO steepled and leaned back in his boardroom chair as he asked senior
staff, "What shall we do about this problem?" 3. Steeple
gestures may be observed at training lectures, news briefings, and seminars on
financial planning, e.g., where precise digital opposition reflects careful
reasoning, calculation, scheming, and thought.
Parallel palms. A common variant of the steeple cue is the widespread parallel-palms gesture. In parallel palms, the open hands are held facing--i.e., parallel to--one another as they are raised and lowered together (i.e., in tandem) in beating or chopping motions to strengthen a verbal point. As demonstrative speaking gestures, parallel palms are often seen in the courtroom as lawyers seek to manifest or prove an oral argument. Parallel palms are used by politicians, as well, to present arguments which they believe to be cogent, sound, and valid. Thus, parallel palms is an "exploded" version of the steeple cue, in which a speaker's opened hands are extended and aggressively shaken at listeners to show a. precise thought and b. a strong emotional conviction about the thought's validity. (N.B.: Note how, because the hands are held midway between the palm-down and palm-up positions, parallel-palms cues suggest the physical act of grasping, holding, or seizing a concept.)
World politics. Winston Churchill and Mikhail Gorbachev used the
steeple gesture to signal self-confidence as they spoke and listened. Regarding
Gorbachev, "He steeples in Moscow. He steeples in Washington. He steeples when
he listens. He steeples when he talks. He steeples high. He steeples low. He
even steeples when he smiles" (Blum 1988:3-14).
RESEARCH NOTES: 1. Finger-thumb steeple: "One hand movement which we filmed in a wide variety of places, is habitually used in speech. This involves placing the tips of the thumb and forefinger together to emphasize a line of argument. Usually, the hand moves agitatedly to and fro, and the speaker often concludes the gesture by abruptly baring his open palm at the other party" (Hass 1970:148). 2. "When a person in a private session with me displays this behavior and I ask what they are feeling, I can get a range of responses. If, however, I phrase my question in a leading way such as, 'I sense you're feeling pretty confident about what you've just said . . .,' I will invariably get an affirmation. If the person does not verbally confirm confident feelings, the steepling generally stops when I ask the question this way" (Blum 1988:3-13). 3. Fingers steeple, a widespread gesture, means "I am thinking" (Morris 1994:65).