Ever feel pressured in your communication? Stressed to the nines when you’re called upon to perform a skilled task, and you don’t feel prepared? Take heart.

There’s a study that might shed some light and help tame your anxiety when communicating.

Let me begin by saying that this study was not done to research communication. Rather, it was performed by a team of German sports psychologists to examine sports performance. What they found was fascinating. They believe that a simple fist-squeezing procedure helps athletes avoid choking under pressure. I’m thinking that there may be an application in your communications, too.

Jugen Beckmann and his colleagues tested their theory across three studies (Beckmann, J., Gröpel, P., and Ehrlenspiel, F. 2013. Preventing Motor Skill Failure Through Hemisphere-Specific Priming: Cases From Choking Under Pressure. Journal of Experimental Psychology).

What the research tells us and how to apply it to communication.

These researchers suggest that activating the right hemisphere of your brain results in better performance, even under pressure. Conversely, they say that activating the left hemisphere is linked with conscious deliberation or “choking under pressure”.

When you deliberate or hesitate, it can sometimes appear as a lack of confidence or a weakness. In these occasions, someone else can grab the proverbial ball from you and run with it leaving you in their dust. Whether literally, or figuratively, you don’t want this, right?

The first study of this research was with 30 semi-professional football players, the second with 20 Taekwondo practitioners and the third with badminton players. The researchers found that when these participants squeezed their right hands into fists, they tended to choke under pressure. In sharp contrast, when they squeezed their left hands into fists, they outperformed. Following is what they concluded.

Squeeze your LEFT fist to improve physical performance.

Next time when you’re delivering a presentation that requires a quick and nimble reaction, improving your decisive physical performance may help. Perhaps you’re in a meeting and require the ability to respond quickly, and that’s when this heightened physical performance could help you react with lightning speed. 

Conversely, another application of this research could be when you DON’T want to react physically and WANT some deliberation before jumping into a knee-jerk physical response. Imagine being in a meeting, feeling the pressure of wanting to lash out at someone verbally or otherwise, and finding a way to control that impulse. This study suggests that decreasing your physical response, your decisive reaction is done simply by this:

Squeeze your RIGHT hand into a fist to DECREASE your physical responsiveness.

Now, it’s worth noting that the research isn’t conclusive and there are a few methodology questions that some would argue put the observations under fire (such as participants having an idea of what the hypothesis was before the tests versus doing the more preferred “double-blind” testing method). However, it’s still an interesting study that might have application in YOUR world.

What’s the harm of trying it?

Next time you’re faced with a communication challenge, when you need a shot of confidence to muster up your best physical presence and movements, try making a fist with your left hand. Or when you want to control and quell your physical reptilian reaction to lash out, make a fist with your right hand. 

CAUTION: When you clench your hands into fists, do so discreetly, as fists can be misread in body language as intense anger.

Tightening your left or right hand into a fist might not do anything. Then again, research suggests, it just might. When coupled with visualizing a successful outcome, deep breathing to relax, and cue words to trigger a positive mindset, fist-clenching could be a powerful part of your pre-performance routine.

Maybe fist pumps make sense after all. Guess those sportspeople know more about communication than one would have guessed. Fist pump to that.

© originally published in 2013 Marion Grobb Finkelstein, updated 2023

©2023 Marion Grobb Finkelstein (MarionSpeaks)

Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation” 
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Leadership communication expert, Marion Grobb Finkelstein shows leaders at any level how to build resilient and respectful workplaces by changing how they communicate. Chat with her at or and sign up for her FREE “Marion’s Communication Tips” at

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Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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