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>!"
Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures. See "Dismissive Gestures: 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. Top Next Issue
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!
For 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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Dismissive Gestures: II
- In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've
developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They
hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog
of dismissive gestures.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might
help you appreciate your job.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 21: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on March 21.
- And on March 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IV
- Narcissistic behavior at work is more damaging than rudeness or egotism. It leads to faulty decisions that compromise organizational missions. In this part of the series we examine the effects of constant demands for attention and admiration. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.