A Guide to Signs You Should Know for the Workplace

A Guide to Signs You Should Know for the Workplace

Whether you find yourself interacting with a coworker who relies on sign language to communicate or a business client or customer who is deaf or hard of hearing, it’s important to have a basic understanding of some of the most common signs you might encounter in a workplace setting.

Set yourself up for clearer conversation and make an effort to bridge communication gaps—here are a handful (pun entirely intended) of useful signs to recognize in an office setting.


First things first—make sure that you understand basic pleasantries to make sure your first encounter with a deaf or hard-of-hearing coworker or customer is positive. A simple “hello” is almost an intuitive sign—you place your dominant hand near your ear and move outwards and way from your body to indicate this greeting.

So what about something more specific to a time of day? Well, “good morning” is a two-part sign—you’ll first sign “good” by placing a flat hand to your chin and your other hand at your waist, bringing your chin hand to the waist hand in a fluid motion. The “morning” comes next—you’ll bend your elbow in front of your body as if you’re doing a bicep curl and use your other hand to rest the fingertips on the inside of your bent elbow. To complete the motion, you’ll curl your bent arm, bringing the palm upward toward your face.

How about an afternoon meeting? Well, “good afternoon” borrows that same sign for “good” that we learned above, now adding “afternoon” by bending your dominant elbow, with your palm flat, facing downward and angled slightly upward—in a two o’clock position if you were to be looking from the side. Your non-dominant arm should bend in front of your torso, with your forearm parallel to your abdomen and your palm facing downward.

Common Needs

How about some common items you might find in an office? Whether you’re wanting show more of an effort to learn common terms to endear yourself toward coworkers and customers, or perhaps an interpreter is running late, it’s important to know some basics.

We all need that caffeine boost, and offering your guest some “coffee” might be a great sign to have in your back-pocket. To sign this word, you’ll make a motion that feels quite similar to what you’d picture as a coffee bean grinder. You’ll make fists with both your hands and stack them on top of each other in front of your torso. Next, you’ll keep the bottom fist motionless while you circularly “crank” the invisible grinder with your top fist.

Perhaps your guest might need internet access while in your office space—in this case, “Wi-Fi” might be a useful piece of terminology to know. In this case, the most common demonstration of this term is to simply finger-spell the word. For the “W,” join your pinky and thumb and raise your index, middle and ring fingers (similar to how you would indicate “3”). For the “I,” simply make a fist with your hand but raise just your pinky. And for the “F,” join your thumb and index finger in front of your palm and raise the remaining three fingers.

Common Phrases

To wrap things up, let’s talk through a few multi-word phrases you might commonly use with a coworker or customer you’re meeting for the first time, starting with “my name is…” Breaking the phrase down, you’ll sign “my” by patting your palm against your chest. To finish the phrase, sign “name” by pressing your index and middle fingers together on each hand, with the remaining fingers tucked away. You’ll bring each set of fingers together in an “X” formation in front of you to indicate “name.”

Once your guest has been guided to your conference room, you might like to tell said person to “please have a seat.” This multi-word phrase can be signed as follows—starting with the word “please,” which is indicated by placing your palm to your chest and making a clockwise circling motion. Next, you’ll sign “sit,” which is indicated by curling the index and middle fingers on your dominant hand and tucking the remaining fingers away. You’ll make a pointing motion with your non-dominant hand, bending your arm in front of your torso and pointing your index finger toward the opposite side of your body. For the motion itself, you’ll simply place the curled fingers from your dominant hand down onto the pointed index finger of your non-dominant hand.

This is just a starter pack of some common signs you might find useful in the workplace—for support with your next conference call, check out our Relay Conference Captioning service to make remote meetings even clearer!

Found in: Community | Lifestyle