Is that finger loaded?

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In February’s first edition of The Economist, the publication refers to Ed Balls’ “violent finger-stabbing.”

This is part of his gestural repertoire, something he uses, consciously or unconsciously to reinforce his point. Why is nobody listening to poor Ed?

Discharging this gesture in someone’s face can be a precursor to striking it. Evidence of this can be seen during altercations as vehemence intensifies following its use. Rightly or wrongly, our limbic system (emotion and memory) associates this gesturing with conflict and prepares for fight or flight. Once emotional reactions occur, rational thinking is unlikely to co-exist.

Finger pointing, in an occupational context such as a heated negotiation or indeed PM’s Questions, is impolitic. Crucially, when our flight or fight system becomes aroused, we start applying a “survival” filter to our surroundings. So instead of actively listening to your opponents’ point of view, we adopt a more primitive mindset concerned with remaining in the gene pool. Further polarisation of views will follow.

In a leadership position, showing passion at the right times is a good thing. When that passion spills over into aggression, people will unconsciously stop listening to you and either become aggressive, or look for a way to abscond. Either of these options is not likely to influence your audience.

When David Cameron gets fired up, instead of finger pointing he will pinch his index finger and thumb together in a “precision grip.” This causes a less emotive reaction and subliminally suggests accuracy of his words. This is a coached behaviour to avoid negative inferences.

For the benefit of Mr Balls and other leaders who finger point, don’t!