Body Language 76 Contempt

April 27, 2020

What are the telltale body language signals for a person who is expressing contempt? Most of the gestures for this particular emotion are facial, however, sometimes the hands get involved as well.

Before describing the gestures related to contempt, we need to recognize there are various forms of contempt. In this article we will deal with the gestures associated with two types of content.

First we will explore the type of contempt where one person is upset with another individual and has reached the breaking point. Second, we will cover the form of contempt where one person feels superior to the other person

The first type of contempt is an extreme form of anger. Contempt means despising someone or having total lack of respect. In a professional setting, contempt is normally directed at another individual or group. I suspect it is possible to show contempt for your broken-down car, but nobody would be around to see the gestures.

Mouth

The mouth is always involved when showing contempt, but there are various ways it can be configured. The most common mouth gesture is a deep frown. Usually the jaw is set tight as are the lips. If the person has an open mouth, then the emotion is usually rage rather than contempt. It is possible to convey contempt with a sneer where the upper lip is curled upward showing teeth.

Eyebrows

Since contempt is an extension of anger, it is logical that many of the facial cues for anger will be evident. The classic frown with the eyebrows is a good visible cue, but you need to be a bit careful. Sometimes contempt can involve a rather placid expression with the eyebrows. If that is the case, look for a squint of the eyes and a piercing gaze.


Hand gestures

The most common hand gesture with contempt is pointing. This is a classic hostile movement that is intended to focus energy on the person who is being held in contempt. Another hand gesture might involve a flat hand extended palm up as if to say “you fool, how could you be so stupid?”

A person exhibiting contempt may have folded arms or put hands on hips. These two gestures are common with all forms of anger.

What to do

When you see evidence of this form of contempt, recognize that the person has gone way beyond annoyance and even anger. If the gesture is directed toward you, there is some serious repair work to be done.

The best course is to not mirror the gestures of the other person but calmly proceed to investigate the source of the problem. Do this with a sincere desire to uncover what is happening and no trace of a condescending remark.

You want the other person to open up and tell you what he or she is thinking. Only then can you explore ways to remedy the situation. Your sincerity will be evident by what you say and your body language as you say it.

You may want to put some time between the current interface and the problem solving phase. Sometimes having a cooling off period will soften the other person’s approach, but if you want to do this, be careful to not appear to reject the emotions.

Ask if it would be best to discuss this a little later and recognize the other person may insist on an immediate response from you.

Avoid becoming defensive and saying things like “you do not understand.” Those kinds of deflections will only increase the ire, because they will be interpreted as disrespect. Assume the non-verbal input is legitimate, because in the other person’s mind it is. Handle the conversation with care because often you can begin rebuilding trust right on the spot.

The other type of contempt

Here, the person believes he or she is better than the other person and shows it with body language. This is not a form of anger, but rather a strong feeling of superiority.

You do not see a frown or furrowed eye brows, in fact the body language is nearly opposite. The most obvious body language associated with superiority is the nose and chin in the air.

The message is “I’m too good to even talk to you.” Curiously, contempt can also be manifest by looking down one’s nose at another person.

The eyebrows would be level and not furrowed, and the eyes would be half shut as if to not let in more light than is necessary.

The mouth is closed and not clenched, as would be the case for contempt with anger.

What to do

When someone is giving you signals of feeling superior, there really is not a lot you can do about it. You might start reciting the Greek Alphabet, but that would only provide some comic relief. You could try to dazzle the other person by stating some obscure medical theory, but that would only play into the other person’s game.

Giving him a quick kick in the groin might feel satisfying, but it would not change his underlying problem, and it might get you killed.

The best thing to do when confronted with a person who believes he is superior is to turn around and walk away. Nothing you can say or do is going to impress a person who believes he is better than you. It is best to let the egomaniac stew in his own juice and don’t put up with the game he is playing.

Both Modes at the same time

It is conceivable that you might see both extreme anger and a feeling of superiority at the same time. In that case, you will witness a mixture of the gestures discussed in this article. The person will show obvious distain while also be on the verge of exploding with rage.

Wrap up

Contempt can come in lots of forms. In this article we have discussed the two primary forms of contempt and the body language gestures associated with them. See if you can think of other flavors contempt, and send me a note on them.




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


Body Language 14 Hand Gestures

February 8, 2019

In my article last week, I covered wringing of the hands. This week I want to make some general statements about hand gestures and discuss several of the ones that are of high interest to me.

There is no way that I can list even half of the gestures that people use in this short blog article, but I will share my favorites and give some caveats on their use and misuse.

In an article in “Science of People,” they reported that the most viral TED Talks contained roughly two times the level of hand gestures than the least viral talks.

Gestures generally improve the accuracy and interest of communication. Usually the use of hand gestures is a positive thing for communication, but we will see that it is not always the case.

First of all, recognize that if you have hands, you are going to use them when you communicate verbally. If you doubt that, just observe yourself as you talk with other people naturally. You will use your hands to embellish your points as naturally as you breathe in and breathe out. If you ever do observe a person who can talk for 10 minutes with no hand gestures, check his pulse, he may be dead and just playing a recording.

On the other extreme, some people use excessive hand movements to emphasize their points. It can get to be distracting and even annoying. I know a public speaker who uses excessive gestures to emphasize every part of every sentence. I found myself listening to him and began to realize that all the movement eventually distracted from his meaning, and I started to lose trust in him.

The habit of hand gestures is nearly impossible to break, so an important concept is to monitor how much gesturing you are using and watch how other people react when you speak. If you see a fatigued, confused, or bored expression, you may be doing too much gesturing.

If you do any speaking in public (including training or teaching), it would be wise to get a tape of yourself from time to time to view your level of gesturing. You may be surprised by what you see on the tape.

Just like all body language, hand gestures are highly culturally specific, so do not assume your gestures will translate accurately to everyone. For example, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the surface of the moon, he turned to the camera and made an “O” gesture with his first finger touching his thumb and the remaining three fingers straight out.

For people in many countries, the implication was clearly a signal meaning “AOK.” However, the people in Japan interpreted it as “Zero” and the people in Brazil and Greece saw an obscene gesture. Be careful with that gesture!

The position of your hands as you speak also reveals a lot about your attitude. For example, extended hands with palms up is a signal of openness and honesty. This type of gesture works to enhance the level of trust. The other extreme where the palms are hidden from view while gesturing often has a negative impact on trust.

In any context, pointing is one of the more hostile gestures. It tends to put people on the defensive. If you point a lot while you speak, you would do yourself a favor by toning it down. It takes a lot of effort to break the habit, but you will improve your relations with others if you refrain from pointing, unless you are giving directions or directing attention to something of interest.

We tend to indicate the relative size of things by the distance between our hands or fingers. This gesture is usually done when we are comparing one thing with another. We might have our hands apart by 18 inches when describing a very large boat and then only a few inches apart when we talk about the dinghy.

One gesture that I found particularly useful in the business world was the “Time out” sign, where you put the tips of the fingers on one hand to the palm of the other hand. I found that sign to be helpful in a team environment to allow one member of the group to signal he or she is questioning what is going on. You have to make an agreement at the outset between all parties that anyone can make the gesture without fear of being ridiculed.

Once you have that agreement, the “time out” sign is useful at enabling more meaningful discussions that enhance the level of trust between people. If someone thinks we are “spinning our wheels” he can just indicate that with the time out signal.

When people want to communicate literally, they will often use “air quotes” where each hand bends the first two fingers simultaneously. This gesture is easy to understand, but there is a caveat. It may mean that the speaker wants people to understand the specific wording, but it can also be a kind of mocking gesture where the person does not believe what another person has said and wants to point that out for the record.

You need to decipher the meaning from the context of the message. The use of air quotes can signal disagreement between parties in a discussion. One party may be trying to mimic what another party said with an tinge of scorn.

The famous “thumbs up” gesture is a quick way to indicate approval, and the reverse (thumbs down) gesture indicates the opposite. These gestures are generally consistent from one culture to another. I have never heard of these signals being reversed in any particular culture.

These are a few of the thousands of hand gestures that people use all the time. The important thing is to use gestures well but not to excess and be very careful when using gestures outside the specific culture where you live. When going to a culture you are not familiar with, it is a good idea to check out the specific gestures for that country. A good book to help with this prepping is “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries” by Morrison, Conaway, and Borden.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763