You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist

A few seasons ago a young premiership striker scored a hat trick of sublime quality. The speed of thought, flight of foot and clinical accuracy made the three goals rank amongst the most simple, yet clinical I have ever seen

What struck me at the time however, and stuck in my mind for even longer than the goals themselves, was the celebration. 

As the third goal went in, the young lad turned to the crowd and with a cheeky grin he rubbed his palms together rapidly. It was a gesture which says ‘I can hardly wait, lets keep playing, I’ll score some more’. 

With the ‘raised palm rub’, he had told us ‘non-verbally’ that he expected the rest of the game, or maybe even the subsequent season to be a big success. 

In body language, rubbing the palms together is a classic way in which people communicate positive expectation. The dice thrower rubs the dice between the palms of his hands as a sign of his positive expectancy of winning, the master of ceremonies rubs his palms together and says to the audience ‘We have been looking forward to our next speaker’, and the excited salesperson struts into the managers office, rubs his palms together and says excitedly ‘we’ve just received a big order!’ 

However, the waiter who comes to your table at the end of the evening rubbing his palms together and asking ‘anything else, Sir?’ is non-verbally telling you that he has expectancy of a good tip. 

The speed at which a person rubs their palms together is crucial. It signals who he thinks will receive the positive benefits. Say for example, you want to buy a home and you visit an estate agent. After describing the property you want, the agent rubs his palms together quickly and says ‘I’ve got just the right house for you!’ 

In this way the agent has signaled that he expects the results to be to YOUR benefit. But how would you feel if rubbed his palms together VERY SLOWLY as he told you that he had the ideal property? He’d seem sneaky or devious and you’d get the feeling that he expected the results to benefit him, not you.


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The young lad who made the ‘palm-rubbing’ gesture that sunny afternoon was Michael Owen. His opponents that day? Newcastle United. 

Although Owen later attributed the celebration to jokingly mimicking the mannerisms of a family friend, when you look at what the gesture represents in body language, it fitted the young Owen like a glove. 

Fresh from the world cup he was more than just the ‘next big thing’, he looked for all the world to be the real deal. Pace, vision, speed of thought and feet to match. Clinical in every sense of the word. Owens gesture that day summed up beautifully his state of mind, it was textbook body language. Confidence, belief, EXPECTATION

Thus, we skip forward a few years and it would appear, even to the casual observer that Owen’s demeanor has altered significantly. Even on £100,000 a week gone is the impish grin, and I will lay any price that a body language observer will wait a long time to see the ‘Palm-Rub’ celebration at St.James’. Not because he won’t score goals, he will. But because his body language and his unconscious actions cannot lie. 

The only people on Tyne-side currently rubbing their hands in celebration and anticipation are the 50,000 fans. 

Freddie Sheppard’s fingers and thumb on his right hand may as well be making a ‘gun sign’ which he’s metaphorically holding to his own temple, Michael’s agents hand is holding a fat cigar but Owen himself is telling a different story. 

If you watch the footage carefully of him signing his contract at St. James’ park today the last thing his hands are doing is rubbing together in anticipation, in fact, such is his obvious disgust…..he may as well be holding the pen with one hand……….and pinching his nose with the other. 


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