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Dismissive Language

How to Handle Dismissive Body Language

When we insult each other we damage relationships and that is why direct verbal insults aren’t socially acceptable. But some individuals use body language to hurt others either intentionally or unintentionally. Dismissive gestures vary from culture to culture and they can be used in a variety of ways to:

•    minimize or ignore the other person’s feelings
•    defend your own bad behavior
•    express disdain
•    diminish the other person in the eyes of others
•    assert superior status
•    exact revenge

Dismissive gestures are often tactics for expressing status, consolidating control, or displaying power. As such, their users seek to influence the perceptions of a larger number of people beyond the target – usually the witnesses. When used with this intent to coerce they achieve the desired effect not by eliciting admiration or affection, but rather through fear and intimidation. And when fear or intimidation is the goal, it’s always possible that the user of the gesture actually feels fearful or intimidated too.

Dismissive behavior can be a smirk that suggests irritation or a furrowed brow to show confusion or dislike, or rolling of the eyes to convey disapproval, annoyance or anger.  It can be a hand gesture to brush you away, or someone turning their back to you. Heavy sighing, distracted self-grooming and looking at a watch are other dismissive gestures.

Whatever the dismissive behavior it can cause misunderstandings, hurt feelings, or conflict. It will instantly stop rapport and if used often it destroys trust and safety which permanently harms a relationship.

What Steps Can You Take?

If you are the one feeling dismissed, try giving the benefit of the doubt. Gently ask the person about what just happened. Do it right away while they remember what happened and why they did the gesture.
Try starting with a soft approach using non-threatening language. For example, “You may already know this, but…,” or “I’m sure you didn’t mean this….” This can make a 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 body language is to regularly check in with your internal dialogue and feelings by answering these questions:

  • What do I need to let go of to become open to new perspectives and ideas?
  • What is the meaning I give to what is being said? What other meaning might there be?
  • How do I need to behave in order to bring respect to others?

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, take it seriously. Stop and really listen to the other person; maybe they are only trying to tell you something and aren’t clearly conveying the message.


For confidential discussion, call Manon Dulude at (905) 873-9393.

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