When we insult each other, we damage relationships and make achieving our shared goals more difficult. We recognize this, and that's one reason why we accept constraints on direct verbal insults. Yet, sometimes the urge to insult does prevail, and we've created or learned numerous ways to hurt each other without words.
Like language, humor, and most customs, dismissive gestures vary from culture to culture. While the meanings of various gestures are intuitively clear in your own culture, they can be mysteriously unfathomable in the cultures of others. And they slowly evolve with time. So beware — the items below are based on my own observations in the mainstream US in this first decade of the 21st century.
By examining these tactics, we can take some of the sting out of them, and at the same time reduce the urge to use them ourselves. To that end I offer Part I of my little collection of dismissive gestures. See "Dismissive Gestures: II," Point Lookout for March 28, 2007, for more.
- Tossing the document
- In a meeting, tossing your copy of the handout, agenda, or report onto the conference table can communicate disdain, especially if you give it a little spin as you toss.
- Walking out
- Walking out of a meeting, abruptly and without any serious attempt to appear invisible, can communicate anger or disgust.
- Heavy-lidded glances to a third party
- When one listener looks at another with a heavy-lidded glance, and possibly a tilt of the head, the message is, "Gimme a break," or "She's gotta be kidding."
- Heavy sighing
- A heavy sigh, sometimes combined with an exaggerated lift of the shoulders, can mean, "I've had enough of this trash."
- Eye rolling
- Understanding the mechanics
of dismissive gestures
can take some of the
sting out of them
- Typically, eye rolling is executed out of the awareness of the target, and that's bad enough. But sometimes we do it face-to-face, and then it's especially stinging.
- Distracted self-grooming
- Distracted grooming can be flicking or brushing off tiny particles from your own clothing, or from a male's clothing (by a female). The flicking or brushing-off is a rejection gesture, which adds a metaphorical boost.
- Looking at your watch
- Checking the time can be interpreted as "I wish this boring fool would give it a rest."
- A shrug communicates, "I don't care." For extra punch, combine with a facial expression of boredom or disdain.
- Disgusted laughing
- There are laughs-with, and laughs-at. The disgusted laugh is a laugh-at, and there's nothing funny about it.
- Using a mobile device instead of paying attention
- At a meeting, this action can communicate, "I have something much more worthwhile to do than to listen to this (drivel)." It's deniable, of course.
Carry an index card with you for a couple of days, and note any dismissive gestures you see. You might need a couple of index cards. I hope you don't need more than that. Next in this series 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:
- Stalking the Elephant in the Room: I
- The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking,
and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging
elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
- Impasses in Group Decision Making: III
- In group decision making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand.
With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses
in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.
- 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.
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from
embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can
chairs do about stone-throwers?
- Would Anyone Object?
- When groups consider whether to adopt proposals, some elect to poll everyone with a question of the
form, "Would anyone object if X?" It's a risky approach, because it can lead to damaging decisions
that open discussion in meetings can avoid.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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