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April 4, 2007 Volume 7, Issue 14
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Dismissive Gestures: Part III


Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.

Dismissive gestures are non-verbal putdowns. Popular entertainment propagates them, just as it propagates verbal putdowns. If you become familiar with them, you can recognize them more easily, and then you can think to yourself, "How dramatic of him/her!" or "What a fine imitation of <name-your-favorite-film-role>!"

Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. Yang

Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. Yang at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The work led to their receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957. Not all doodles are dismissive gestures. Photo courtesy Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures. See "Dismissive Gestures: Part II," Point Lookout for March 28, 2007, for more.

A snort can say, "What you just said fouled the air, and I must clear my nasal passages before I comment." The "laugh snort" — laughing through your nose — adds extra derision.
Head bobbling
Especially when combined with a grimace, and performed while your conversation partner is talking, this means, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard your nonsense before."
Hand yapping
Holding up one hand, making a "C," and then rapidly opening and closing the jaws of the C as if they were the jaws of the speaker, means roughly the same thing as head bobbling.
Raising one eyebrow
The eyebrow lift, deftly
executed, can be an
expression of derision
True experts combine the eyebrow lift with a dip of the countenance, a stern cast of the features, and raising of the eyes, as if looking over the top of eyeglasses. It means, "Come now, you fool, get with the program."
Failure to return service
In the volley of conversation, when we sometimes receive the "ball," others expect us to return it. Failure to do so, especially by someone with power, implies disregard for the conversation, and possibly for the conversers. For extra disdain, instead of responding, sit quietly and sip your coffee or tea.
Turning your back
This gesture is most effective when performed standing. In a "party" situation — a reception or gathering — the turned back of a person of status or power can be very painful.
One or both arms forward, with the palm facing the target, in a variation of the "stiff-arm" used by NFL football players, is a way of saying, "Back off, buddy, and let me tell you how it is."
Playing with workplace toys
Workplace toys include pens and pencils, paper, rubber bands, and the like. To play with them, we doodle; we fill in the loops of letters such as b, d, p, and e; or we endlessly stretch and relax rubber bands or flick them off into space. Idly playing with workplace toys while someone is speaking can sometimes send a message of distraction or disdain, as, "You're talking, but I want to move on."

Three things to remember. One: when we use dismissive gestures unintentionally, they can still sting. Two: when we feel the sting of someone else's dismissive gesture, it might have been unintentional. And Three: at times, we've all forgotten One and Two. Go to top Top  Next issue: Troublesome Terminology  Next Issue
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Order from AmazonFor more on gestures of all kinds, take a look at Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man, by Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner. It's complete with full-color illustrations. Order from Amazon.com

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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