Sharon Sayler

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Maybe you saw it, Dismissive body language….

First Lady Michelle Obama was caught on video during the President Obama’s 2013 inaugural luncheon appearing to roll her eyes in displeasure at the Speaker of the House.

During the Inauguration Day luncheon, President Barack Obama leaned behind Mrs. Obama to talk with Speaker of the House John Boehner. When Boehner replied, he tapped Michelle Obama. We may never know if it was the comment, the tap or both, but she was not amused and it showed in her body language response.

Dismissive body language, consciously or unconsciously, is used to show disapproval without saying a word.

Know your intention. 

Dismissive behavior can be a smirk that suggests irritation or a furrowed brow that shows confusion or dislike, or an arched eyebrow or eye-roll convey disapproval, annoyance or anger.  It can be a hand gesture to brush you away, or someone turning their back towards the person.

Be aware though, it is a subtle saboteur. It happens most often as an unconscious response to our own hurt feelings, misunderstanding of what just happened or those righteous indignation moments where “I know I’m right and you’re wrong!”

Dismissive body language/behaviors are often used to:
• minimize or ignore the other person’s feelings
• defend your own bad behavior
• distort or generalize what just happened
• diminish the other person in the eyes of others
• challenge the other person’s right to feel or be a specific way.

Whatever the dismissive behavior, intended or not, leaves a wake of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, or worse, conflict. It will instantly stop rapport. If dismissive body language is used often it destroys trust and safety permanently harming a relationship.

Dismissive behaviors are an incredibly frustrating moment if you are on the receiving end. Most people aren’t even aware when they nonverbally dismiss someone. They often argue about whether or not they actually did dismiss you.

How To “Fix” Dismissive Body Language

If you are the one feeling dismissed, come from a place of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Gently ask them about what just happened. Don’t wait too long or they may not remember what happened and why they did the behavior.

Begin your reply by adding a language softener or preface. For example, “You may already know this, but…,” or “I’m curious…,” or  “I’m sure you didn’t mean this….” Language softeners make a huge difference when asking about dismissive gestures. The “dismisser” may not even be aware he or she was doing it!

If you recognize yourself as the “dismisser,” the first step to resolve your use of dismissive nonverbals is to adopt a mindset that is constantly checking in with your internal dialogue and feelings by answering these questions:
• Are they purposefully trying to annoy me?
• Are they aware of what they are saying or doing and the meaning I place on it?
• Are they being passive-aggressive towards me for some reason?
When we slow down our immediate response, we can minimize dismissive body language and the hurt feelings it can cause.  But know that it is a reflection of what you are really thinking.

Spend some time to reflect on why you are dismissing another person. If someone said you did dismiss them, take it seriously. The message you sent is the response you got back…. Stop and really listen to the other person; maybe they are only trying to tell you something and are not as skilled as you would like at conveying the message.

Reality Check: Now, I’m not talking pathological behavior here… For example, there are people who use passive-aggressive dismissive behavior as a weapon of compliance and there are those narcissists that haven’t a clue. Passive-aggressive dismissive behavior and narcissism is a long-term pattern of behavior. Note that your nonverbal defense for passive-aggressive dismissive behavior and narcissism are different. The tips shared here are for those common, everyday moments of dismissiveness that happen, often unconsciously.

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3 comments on “Dismissive Body Language The Subtle Relationship Saboteur
  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. I have seen this happen far too many times. As you know the damage often goes well beyond the moment of dismissive behavior. We all need to be more aware of when and how we engage in dismissive behavior. I like what Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    • Thank you John. If I could add to your: “We all need to be more aware of when and how we engage in dismissive behavior…” not just dismissive behavior, but all our actions.
      I recently coached a wonderful, sweet woman who kept hearing “Why are you so critical of me?” “Stop judging me….” She came to me, asking “What’s going on?”

      Simple, she had a less than productive habit of squinting her eyes and furrowing her brow whenever anyone presented her with an idea, asked her a question etc.

      She’s a systems/process type of person and would immediately go-inside to figure out how to make it work! She wasn’t judging but everyone thought she was.

      Now she knows and although she still catches herself from time to time, she is aware and can now mention, usually with humor, her little habit. She recently told me it even helped her marriage…. we have no idea how far olde Ben’s ounce of prevention will go….

      To your continued success John!
      Sharon

  2. Love this post Sharon. My takeaway is that it highlights is “HOW we are” when others aren’t watching is even more important when others are watching.

    Big fan of “HOW we do things” because it seems to be far more important than what we say.

    Human feel and react at a primal level to body language regardless of the words coming out of the mouth. No matter what we do to diminish this fact, it remains true.

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