Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Build More Trust with Your Boss

July 13, 2014

Threatening boss.How much better off would you be if your boss trusted you more in the future? There are literally hundreds of things you can do to increase the trust that your boss has in you.

Here are ten of my favorite ideas to consider. If you do all ten of these things, chances are you will enjoy a healthy trust level with your boss.

1. Be Trustworthy.

In every situation, you need to show integrity and commitment to do the right thing. If there is a lapse, the boss might not pin you down immediately, but each minor slip or major gaff is going into the cerebral cortex of the boss for evaluation.

You can tell when things are not going well by the way the boss acts toward you. It is almost like that instinctive feeling you have when your mate is angry with you.

Nothing needs to be said overtly; you just know. Pay attention, and if there is the possibility of damage, get some remediation going quickly.

2. Show More Trust.

My “First Law of Trust” states that if you want to see more trust coming your way in a relationship, you need to extend more trust to the other person.

Trust is reciprocal, and normally extending more trust will cause an automatic reaction in the direction of higher trust toward you.

3. Increase Communication.

Voids in communication work to deteriorate trust for several reasons.

First, the boss may become distracted by other things and not feel as close to you.

Second, if there is some doubt about how you are reacting to things, many bosses will assume the worst.

Third, the boss may hear things from others about you that are not true or are distorted in some way. You need to ensure there is enough air time to keep the relationship fresh and positive.

The caveat here is to avoid being a pest. It is a fine line from not having enough interface to over communicating.

If you are in doubt, just ask your boss if your pattern of communication is close to optimal.

4. Clarify Expectations.

You may be doing great work but not be dead center on the objectives of your boss. That actually puts your efforts slightly at cross purposes to the boss.

If you start getting some pushback or more micromanaging than in the past, you are likely off on a tangent relative to your boss’s desires. Get this corrected as soon as possible.

5. Don’t Assume.

When we presume to know what the boss is thinking, we sow the seeds of lower trust.

Human beings have a unique way of not divulging full intent, so by assuming you know exactly what the boss wants without verification, you are taking a big risk.

You may be able to get away with it for a while, but sooner or later you are going to disappoint. It is far better just to verify you understand the intent of your boss whenever there is a potential lapse.

6. Call Out Trust Issues.

Do it delicately so as not to offend. If your boss is taking shortcuts or doing marginal things in terms of ethics, it is important to have a channel to ask questions.

Use Socratic Questions rather than accusatory statements as a preferred approach.

For example, rather than saying, “I think you are wrong to move some of the inventory into the sales category for this month,” a far wiser approach might be, “In what ways might the auditors misinterpret our motive if they discover we moved some inventory into the sales category?”

7. Admit Mistakes.

Occasionally you will make a mistake. When you do, it is usually a good idea to admit it to your boss.

I learned that lesson early in my career when I made a serious blunder that my boss would not have known about if I did not reveal it.

I immediately blew myself in by saying,

“You would never know this if I did not tell you, but here is what happened…”

That little speech made a material difference in my career for the next 25 years. Nothing shows integrity and builds trust faster than to fess up to something that would never be discovered if you did not reveal it.

8. Watch The Body Language.

Most of the clues that you are going off course with your boss in terms of trust will not come verbally or even in e-mails.

The information will come “in between the lines,” and you must be adept at picking up the signals. Particularly watch for changes in body language.

In electronic communication, the body language is there if you know how to read it.

Watch for the use of pronouns and distribution changes. Those areas often contain vital information. Also watch the speed of returned messages.

A change there is a signal that needs to be understood. Sometimes it is a simple case of overload, but other times it is a manifestation of lower trust.

9. Show Appreciation.

Do not go overboard and become an overt sycophant, but do have an attitude of gratitude when the boss does positive things for you.

In this area, the observation of body language is particularly critical. Watch for changes in gestures to recognize if you are laying it on too thick.

10. Care About Your Boss.

In the hubbub of daily activities, it is easy to forget that your boss is a person with hopes and dreams.

Get involved in his or her personal goals in a prudent way. Find out about the family situation, if that is acceptable, and inquire about how things are going.

Do not do this in a manipulative way but in a sincere caring way. People do nice things for people they like. If you truly care about your boss, that will encourage a reciprocal feeling within that person, and the relationship will grow stronger.
There are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of other ways you can enhance the trust level with your boss and build a strong relationship that will endure.

Follow these ten rules and you will be well on your way to a healthy relationship. That philosophy the cheapest and most effective insurance policy you can acquire in any organization.