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.”


Holiday Gifts

December 20, 2014

happy mature business man with santa hat  is giving you a presenThis time of year, we naturally think of giving gifts. Whether with family or friends or in the work environment, we want to show our affection for each other with tangible presents.

At work, we often see some kind of bonus or financial benefit that has been baked into the compensation package long ago.  It arrives during the holiday season by design. While welcome, if the bonus is expected and predictable, the impact as a gift is muted.

How can leaders combine the habit of giving gifts with a resolution to do things better in the future. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather presents of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time.

You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others.

People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Giving the gift of time means demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do.

So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience. For example, reducing the tendency to micromanage is a great way to demonstrate higher trust.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this holiday season is the idea that with very little time and effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of giving gifts  every day in your work and home life.


What’s Under Your Tree

December 24, 2011

I would like to explore the spirit of giving in this article. The Christmas Tree is a great symbol and tradition because it provides a locus of opportunity for us to place large and small gifts for the people in our life.

Let’s focus on the equivalent of a Christmas Tree in your work environment. Do you have a way to figuratively place “gifts” for the people who you interface with on a daily basis? I am not thinking of the tangible gifts, but rather gifts of a different kind. Here are a few of the gifts you might consider giving more often to people at work, or at home.

Time

The most precious thing for all people is really time. Reason: scarcity and value are what make something precious. Time is scarce because it is fixed (24/7), and it is valuable because we are all habitually short of adequate time. You can give time to people by thinking through how you can be more considerate of theirs. For example, you can have shorter meetings, cut out some Mickey Mouse work, reduce conflict, lower the e-mail load, prioritize better, eliminate redundancy, communicate more clearly, and so forth. There is a never ending supply of ideas to save people time at work.

The other way we give time to people is to make ourselves more available to them. We are all pulled too many ways and find it difficult to balance our own needs with those of others. People do recognize and appreciate when you take time for them if they need it. Placing the gift of time under the tree is demonstrating with your calendar that you are accessible.

Trust

When you give people the gift of your trust, it multiplies and then comes back to you with more trust. Real trust is essential for people to function as they were designed to do. So many people dwell in an environment of extremely low trust at work every day. In most environments, the extension of more trust is the most effective way to uplift the culture and improve the work experience.

Attention

In the rush of daily activity, it is easy to take people for granted. We get wrapped up in the stresses that consume our day and forget to acknowledge other individuals who are striving to do their best. See them work, and recognize their effort and dedication.

Care

Empathy for what others are experiencing is the best way to have people realize you care about them. If you show an interest in their challenges and triumphs in life, they will see that love and reflect it back to you. The visceral feeling of being cared for is part of the human condition that is essential: like the air we breathe or the food we eat.

Support

Strongly linked to care is the notion of support. We all need help from time to time, and the gift of our physical or emotional support can make a huge difference in the quality of another person’s day. Be proactive with your support. Be more like Santa and less like Scrooge.

Recognition

Reinforcing people in an appropriate and thoughtful way when they do good work helps improve their self esteem, and is always a welcome gift under the tree. Recognition triggers their intrinsic motivation to do more good things. It enables empowerment and is kind of a liberating force that encourages people. Thus, recognition is a force multiplier.

This list could get very long if I let it, but I will keep it short to give readers the gift of brevity. My present to you this Christmas is the idea that with very little effort, you can have the wonderful spirit of placing gifts under the tree every day in your work and home life.