Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 12;   March 21, 2007: Dismissive Gestures: I

Dismissive Gestures: I

by

Last updated: July 18, 2019

Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of non-verbal insults.

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.

Gen. George Casey, Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz, and Sec. Donald Rumsfeld

Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and General George Casey, all at respective news conferences. The photos are unremarkable except for the similarity of their gestures, which could be experienced as, "Hold it right there, pal." Photos courtesy U.S. Department of Defense.

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."
Shrugging
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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Dismissive Gestures: II  Next Issue

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!

Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to ManFor 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

The 171st graduating class of the Massachusetts Firefighting AcademyHow to Get a Promotion: the Inside Stuff
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us are, but are you doing all you can to make it happen? Start with a focus on you.
A section of the walls of Conwy Castle showing a battered plinthHow to Undermine Your Subordinates
People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink even lower.
Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, pitching on July 25, 2010When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?
Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.

See also Workplace Politics, Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An excavator loads spoil into rail cars in the Culebra Cut, Panama, 1904Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
John Frank Stevens, who conceived the design and method of construction of the Panama CanalAnd on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership

On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.

Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.