Dismissive gestures are nonverbal 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
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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:
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- If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to
it, or at least, lighten the load.
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
- Conway's Law and Technical Debt
- Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication
patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt.
- Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
- Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question."
Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternatives are possible can help us respond more effectively
in the moment.
- Cassandra at Work
- When a team makes a wrong choice, and only a tiny minority advocated for what turned out to have been
the right choice, trouble can arise when the error at last becomes evident. Maintaining team cohesion
can be a difficult challenge for team leaders.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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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.