Gestures in Risk management – Part 2

November 17, 2022



In our last podcast, we discussed risk management rituals. In this one, we will examine the role of gestures in risk management. By studying body language, linguistics, and the unconscious mind, we can better understand human decision-making and culture.

Further information


Gestures in Risk Management


Rob Long  00:00

We had the most terrible bushfires in Australia in Victoria a few years ago. And the head of the emergency services was a woman who at the absolute height of the Bush was 150 people had been burned to death and killed, hundreds of 1000s of hectares had burned down. And in the middle of the crisis, she went and had lunch and got her hair done at the hairdresser’s. And everyone judged her. Every everyone judged her because they looked at the gesture and they knew what it meant, right? And, of course, everyone’s a psychologist. Everyone’s their counsellor. I looked at that, and I saw a person and the such trauma and such distress, that they were falling apart. All the experts, you know, looked at her and crucified her, of being not caring, and crucified her for for being indifferent to the suffering of others. But a skilled psychologist and a skilled counsellor, particularly in social psychology, would look at that behaviour and think this is the evidence of trauma.


Nippin Anand  01:27

Hello, and welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand. This podcast series is dedicated to understanding different perspectives about risk and safety. And that is precisely the reason we call it embracing differences. Because the idea is not to claim that any one method, any one discipline, any one approach is better than the other, but to appreciate different viewpoints, and appreciate the idea of transdisciplinary knowledge. And that is why we have a mix of academic researchers from different backgrounds and industry practitioners from different industries at different levels in the organisation. And again, the idea is embracing differences. The podcast is available on all, all the the most famous if you like podcast channels like Spotify, anchor, Apple podcast, Google. So now, my name is Nippin, and I’m the host of this podcast, but I’m also the founder of novellus. Eco villas. Our work is mainly dedicated to understanding and improving organisational culture using language. Now we don’t like to use the word safety culture, we prefer the US to use the term organisational culture, because it is a more holistic approach to understanding culture. today’s podcast is about understanding the role of gestures in risk management. If you recall, the last episode was about understanding rituals and risk management. And when I spoke to the guest, Dr. Robert Lang, who’s based in Australia, and also the CEO of the company, human dimensions, he was of the view that we should give people the other side of the coin this term. So once you understand rituals, it is also important for you to understand gestures, because rituals and gestures, as he says, is more or less the same thing. They are the two sides of the same coin. And what you will realise in today’s podcast is that how important it is to understand gestures, and people to understand how people make decisions, particularly from the unconscious mind. What you can expect in today’s podcast is a detailed discussion on the on the idea of gestures in risk management. And then once we are done with this, the next episode, we’ll be trying to put rituals and gestures into a personal story. And that should come out in the next week or so if everything goes as planned. I hope you enjoy this discussion between me and Dr. Robert long. So we had an interesting session last week, Rob, where we talked about the idea of rituals and risk management. And I think I put it out there on the podcast embracing differences. And it has been, I think a lot of people appreciated the way you explain rituals. And I think there was a very tangible practical connection there. And I think that went really well. So we promised that the next podcast we do will be on the gestures. So before we start talking about the tool, Rob, would you help me or us the listeners understand what is the meaning of gestures?


Rob Long  04:52

Yeah, well. You really can’t talk about ritual gesture and symbol separately, you can’t do, it simply cannot be done. You might try to, but they’re inseparable. They’re, they’re the flip side of the same coin. They’re the they’re the intermeshing of the same thing. So ritual and gesture belong together. And symbol and myth belong together. And you cannot separate ritual gesture, symbol and myth, neither can you devalue them as our dramatic performance. Because all of that language I just use in is critical to understanding human enactment. And everything we do, everything we do, every gesture we have, is a physical enactment, which becomes a metaphor. And metaphor is also another thing that cannot be separated from ritual, gesture, symbol, myth, performance, dramatic, it none of these things can be separated, they’re also intertwined. And the big I was reading on the weekend from a very I guess, one of the earliest researchers and scholars on on Richard reality. And in his book, he was saying how modern science or modern society has disposed of the idea of ritual and gesture, in a kind of arrogance that has shelved ritual to some ancient religious concept. And so we don’t have to know about ritual anymore, because we’ve dismissed that as something that was done 1000 years ago in some irrelevant religious process. And the book, it’s by Peter McLaren does an amazing job of showing just how ignorant we’ve become, by dismissing the power and a broad understanding of ritual. And he’s absolutely right. We, we have now become numbed to the symbolic performance of metaphor and acted metaphor, you know, so I can I can use the word. Oh, you know, pray, for example. You know, I, I said a little prayer, you know, which is, you know, a title of a song, and we’ll accept it in a song, but we won’t accept prayer as a metaphor. And we must turn that word prayer into a religious notion of ritual, not a notion of prayer, which is non religious. And, you know, I, it’s like, it’s like it’s like we talked say about a praying mantis. Do you have that insect? a praying mantis? Yeah, a praying mantis is is a is a little insect that captures other insects and eats them. I don’t know if you had them in Australia, but but the gesture from a praying mantis is not the closed hands like you can see on the screen, you know, that the hands against each other, which is, which is the classic gesture for bowing in Cambodia or Southeast Asian, that’s not prying hands, you know, that’s not about praying. If you’re in if you’re in Cambodia, and you put that in front of your mouth, that and you you bow, that’s not a prayer, that is an act of humility, that’s an act of grace, it’s a way of holding your hands together as an act of peace. So when you put your hands together, so So you know, unless you understand how all these things are interconnected, you’ll never understand culture. And so gesture for me is is a, it can be a visual, verbal, but it’s mostly unconscious enactment of an emotion and a feeling. So, so that would be my definition of a gesture. But that unfortunately, by such a tight definition, we actually contain it and gesture cannot be contained. Gesture is a wicked problem. And for those who study linguistics with me, you will know that gesture is a para linguistic dimension of linguistics. It is a verbal visual symbolic mode of linguistics that doesn’t involve text.


Nippin Anand  10:13

It’s such a such a good point you make Rob. And I think one of the things about if you want to be a trustworthy leader, then your body language as we call it should be congruent with your language as you speak. And that is, and people can intuitively see whether you can be trusted or not, if you if that is the power of gesture. Now there’s one question I wanted to ask from, do you see much difference between body language and gesture?


Rob Long  10:42

Oh, yes, yes, yes. Can you please explain? Yeah, well, I think the trouble is, is again, you know, poor old, poor old engineering and science, have this psychosis with measurement, right? This is an error because it’s in the risk and safety industry, this psychosis with measurement. And what developed out of the body language movement in the 1960s. And 70s, was this quest to interpret mathematically or in an engineering sense and tried to capture what meaning was contained within body language. And so, you know, books were published, this means this, and this means this, you know, when a person falls their arms, that means that when a person’s hands on the head, it means this and so on. It was again, a huge effort to try and quantify theatrical performance, dramatic, dramatic performance. One of the first things you weren’t learn when you study semiotics with me is that symbols cannot be measured. Symbols cannot be measured. Symbols are governed by a hermeneutic. And that hermeneutic, that theory of interpretation is governed by culture, context, history, and so on. It’s governed by many, many things. So the body language movement, tried to kind of move away from the mystery of gesture, and the cultural anchoring of gesture, to symbol, and then tried to quantify it, and kind of make it known. And it was a wonderful pathway for Alan peas and his wife to sell millions of books, and to do lots of training in body language. And then we’ve got all these P people running around, trying to predict emotions and feelings based upon whether you waved your hand or whether you put it in your ear or whatever you did with your finger, you know,



isn’t that wonderful? So what you’re saying is that the fundamental difference between a gesture and body language is this quest for science and scientism, this inability to live with mystery, which is integral to understanding gesture.


Rob Long  13:09

Yes, integral. Yes, absolutely. Okay. And, and that’s why I chose the symbol of the hands on on the front. Because, depending on what country you’re in, and what culture in that’s the only way to attribute meaning to that gesture. And so there are there are many meanings to that, to that symbolic enactment, have two hands together. And that’s why I chose that to get away from this idea of, oh, well, anyone who puts their hands together must be praying. No, no, if that’s it, that’s a demonstration of your arrogance that you think you can name the behaviour of someone else according to your interpretation of culture.


Nippin Anand  14:03

Well, the earlier anthropologists did exactly that by calling the other people savage. And


Rob Long  14:10

the missionaries, the Christian, the Christian missionaries, Nippin. Yeah, my God. The talk about arrogance from the Christian missionaries, you know, just and it still goes on today. We still got, we still got


Nippin Anand  14:26

in a way, Rob, what you’re saying is that a gesture should have at least has at least two components to it, one is that it has the power to prevail, it has prevailed for so long, that means it must mean something and it is significant to a particular group. Right? So it means something to a particular group. And you as an outsider cannot just go and try and make sense of it in your own way. You have to look at it from the perspective of the stories of the people who actually enacted


Rob Long  14:55

Yeah, correct. And in fact, in in fact, unless you’re in that culture You will enact it wrongly. So, even when and I’ve been to many, many countries, and I’ve tried to learn their gestures, and I can never get the nuances, right. And I prove, in fact, it’s funny when I was in the Philippines, and have had learned some of their gestures, and they giggle and laugh at me. Because just just like we, we laugh, we laugh at Englishmen. We laugh at Indians when they come to Australia, cause they can’t get it right. No matter how much they try. And as we have a gesture in Australia, it’s really simple. It’s G’day, mate. Pair going, right. It’s, it is so Australian. G’day mate. How you going? You can say that, though. You can, you can try. You can give the utterance which is the gesture. That’s a verbal gesture. But you won’t get it right. No.


Nippin Anand  16:02

So so so how do we how do we help educate people to recognise, to understand gestures? I know you have a have a beautiful semiotic here. Would you like us to walk us through that?


Rob Long  16:19

Yes. You mean, through the card through the tool? Yes. Okay. Well, yeah, last time, we talked about ritual and gesture, the the word rituals in red. And when you turn the card over the word gestures in red, so that that that that in itself is symbolic. By the way, if I just if I just, if I just expand that card, I’ll just, I’ll just show it again. So let me just stop sharing and go to the other one. So you can see it, this is the card itself. And so it’s the flip side of the same thing. And it’s very, very important that it is the flip side of the same thing, that ritual and gesture, are the flip side of the same coin. And it’s critical, because you can’t have one without the other. So when we look at the, I’ll block out the ritual, one for the moment, so and I’ll just go back to the other one. So we can, so we can talk about just it. So here’s here’s the gesture one. And so the other thing that’s important about gesture is that all gesture precedes text. All gesture, precedes language. Parallel linguistics, and gesture, precedes any form of talking and any form of text. And it doesn’t matter what what language or culture you’re in. So for example, the metaphor suck, to suck. Yep, we get that within 30 seconds of birth. So you’re born and you suck. That word suck, will only be learned five years later, where there will be correspondence between the gesture and then we’ll learn the word suck as correspondence to that. And then seven years later, we will learn that it’s a metaphor you sack. Excellent. And so and so understanding linguistics is foundational to understanding semiotics, symbolism, ritual, gesture, risk, and so on. So there’s one sack right. Within 30 seconds of being born. We have the word hold, which of course, has sufficed, same pattern. So we learned the gesture hold. Five years later, we learned the text, that is the correspondence to that gesture, then seven years later, we will learn that it’s a metaphor. And you’ve been caught in a hold up. So and So, a little infant before they can speak a word before the age of 18 months to two years, has at least has at least 500 communicative gestures in their arsenal of paralinguistic language before they can speak mama and daddy. And it’s it’s from correspondence between gesture and text that we learn language. Language is not learned, like the behaviour is tell us, Noam Chomsky smashed that two bits in the 70s. Language is not learned behaviorally, it’s learned gesturally. And gesture, then becomes unconscious symbolism, because it’s so deeply held that even as I wave my hand like this with my thumb, I don’t know I’m doing it. You touched your chin, you don’t know you’re doing it. You’re grimacing your face, you don’t know you’re doing it. You’re blinking your eyes, you don’t know you’re doing it. gesture, is the sign of the unconscious at work, your emotional and your feeling self comes out in gesture, which others see. But you can’t you don’t see. And so gesture is, is your gesture is foundational to para linguistics, foundational to learning.



One sense, what you’re saying is, you know, it goes back to the idea of one brain three minds, Rob, is? Yeah, absolutely. So in a way, what you’re saying is the unconscious mind learns much, much before the conscious mind starts to rationalise it. Absolutely. Absolutely.


Rob Long  21:24

Okay, so. So let’s start with just some basic elements of understanding. So the first question is what part of the body expresses the gesture, and I don’t care if it’s an eyebrow, or, you know, if I shrug my shoulders, yeah. But even in my culture, you got to be very, very careful with what shrugging shoulders means, because to an indigenous person, it means the opposite of what we think it means, and so on. So even in mixed cultures with indigenous or multicultural settings, what part of the body you use to express what you think you’re saying, is an assumption based upon your cultural background. And your early unconscious experiences, it’s not necessarily something you can assume, as some sort of expert in body language. So we start by talking about what part of the body expresses and then what accessories and linguistics I used. We could have Iran a four day course on linguistics, we could have a long talk about that. But it linguistics or parallel linguistics, are critical to understanding gestures. So this Think of how much we can do with our finger. Just one finger, he’s here I am on pointing that I can think of at least 20 meanings for this 20 And that’s just within my culture. That’s just within Australian culture. If I jump, you know, over to the Pacific, and I go to, you know, somewhere like Samoa, or I go to, it’s completely different. And so, so yeah, here’s my finger. Nippin. What does this mean? No, to me, no. Was that it meant to me? It


Nippin Anand  23:23

means you’re saying no.


Rob Long  23:25

Yeah, yeah. I was once on a train in Russia. And I had that given to me. And it means you’re about to be arrested. Your your Oh, yeah. It was a Yeah, yeah. It was interesting experience. I asked the ration behind me is did it just me? No. And she said, No, no, it leaves a means a lot more than now over here. Okay. So what accessories and linguistics are used is very, very important. What does the gesture communicate? Now? Here we go again. How many people talk about hermeneutics the theory of interpretation. When you know, that gestures can say different things to different people in different times through different places. How dare you be so arrogant to think that you can name what that means? Without having cultural knowledge? have remarkable, but that’s that’s what happens. Somehow we all jumped to conclusion, you know, because someone salutes right. So here we go, we salute. What does the salute mean?


Nippin Anand  24:43

It’s a well, I have a story on this because I sailed with the Polish chief engineer once you would do this, or double salute, and I would never understand what that meant. And I was arrogant not to even ask skim. So that remains a mystery till today.


Rob Long  25:02

Yep. And in Australia, we go like this. We don’t salute like that astray. I think English do that too, don’t they? Yes, yes. But American salute like this. Yeah. And Australian salute like that. So an American would look at this and think, if you’ve got a headache, what’s wrong with your head? Yep. And so and so this idea of how is the gesture culturally anchored is absolutely critical. And it should teach you humility. It should teach you mutuality, it should teach you critical thinking, it should teach you how to reflect. So what we should do is rather than make assumptions, and try to be some scientists, because you see, I can salute in sarcasm. I can salute sarcastically in Australia, you know, and virtually say, well, Up yours. Yep. And, and so, you know, this is this is where we move away from science. Now, of course, a lot of people don’t like this, because people who like to think they know all about knowledge, that, that they know, you know, so typical scientific knowledge, mathematical knowledge, engineering knowledge, they like to think I, here’s the bucket of knowledge, sit the exam, and you can pass the exam. Well, you can’t do that with ritual and gesture, it can’t be measured, and it can’t be known. Unless you are apart and enculturated. Within that subculture, or culture, it can’t be known. And even then it can’t be enacted. So, so this is why the question is, how is the gesture culturally anchored? You know? So, even raised hands, you know, what does that mean? I’ve got both my hands up. What does that mean? Nippin. Oh, stop.


Nippin Anand  27:14

I can’t take it anymore. Yeah.


Rob Long  27:17

Or it means I’ve got nothing in my hands don’t shoot me. It can mean so many things. And so, one of the great liberating things about the social psychology of risk is we move away from maths we move away from we move away from engineering, we move away from measurement, and we start embracing a form of knowledge, which is powerful, poetic, dramatic, theatrical, symbolic, and unconscious, and we start to live. Okay, so what does the gesture symbolise? What is the power and energy of the gesture vital? What is the rhythm and pattern of the gesture? Is the gesture performed? unconsciously? Well, that? Yeah, because why did I put that in? I mean, we know it is. But I have to ask it for everyone who thinks that gesture is a conscious? If you don’t know, one brain, three minds? And you think, Oh, yes, we have all these things, consciously. Now you don’t? Nearly every facial gesture we express is emotionally unconscious. And yet, and yet no one talks about it?


Nippin Anand  28:30

Well, this is where you go to another country and try and imitate their gesture consciously, and they will catch you. They are faking it.


Rob Long  28:38

Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And then two last questions. What is it socially and culturally significant? So you need to know, because there are some gestures that don’t, that don’t have as great an importance and others that do. And so, in my culture, you certainly mean, don’t hug and kiss each other on the cheek as an act of affection. And yet, when I went to Europe, I had to really, really battle that cultural block in Australia, because it was so significant for, for Greek people to do that, that, that I was being offensive by not doing it. And it’s only when you realise the significance of that, in that culture. Similarly, when I when you go to other other cultures and realise the social significance of other things, so I spent six or seven weeks in, in Finland once and you know, there there are so many gestures, which are peculiar just to Finn’s that even the Swedes and the Norwegians who live right beside them, don’t understand them. You know, oh, isn’t that? Oh, yeah. And then finally, what political energy is anchored to the gesture? Again, very, very important, because we underestimate ethics and politics, and all, Ill police, all politics, and all ethics have ritual and gestural enactments. So that’s a quick run through the card.



Excellent. Robert, I think just to bring it all together, what I learned through this in the last 30 minutes or so is that if you understand the power of ritual and gesture, in particular, from what we spoke today, you will be able to iron become a little bit more open minded about the idea that all gesture is symbolic, which means that it only means something to somebody in a particular context. And you shouldn’t try to read too much into it, because you are scientific. Your in your thoughts? And I think what what you’re trying to say is that the imagine the, the how much you can draw from, from, from your observations about the outside world of you and how much how much more risk intelligent you become. Because you come to understand the power of the unconscious mind, which is the origin of all decision making, isn’t it? Yes,


Rob Long  31:21

yes. Yes. All. It’s gonna take a minute to tell the story. But I bet it makes me think of Captain chinito. Because, because you’re studying Oh, yeah. What’s his name? Again? A captain Francisco ski Dino? Yes, just Katina makes me think that but we we had the most terrible bushfires in Australia in Victoria a few years ago. And the head of the emergency services was a woman who at the absolute height of the Bush was 150 people had been burned to death and killed, hundreds of 1000s of hectares had burned down. And in the middle of the crisis, she went and had lunch and got her hair done at the hairdresser’s. And everyone judged her. Everyone judged her because they looked at the gesture, and they knew what it meant, right. And, of course, everyone’s a psychologist. Everyone’s their counsellor. I looked at that, and I saw a person and the such trauma and such distress, that they were falling apart. All the experts, you know, looked at her and crucified her, of being not caring, and crucified her for for being indifferent to the suffering of others. But a skilled psychologist and a skilled counsellor, particularly in social psychology, would look at that behaviour and think this is the evidence of trauma. And here is the problem of the engineer who tries to play body language. And yet at no time in their existence, have they spent any time at all studying ritual, gesture, symbol, and all of the things connected to it. And then when you you know, when I look at the, the investigation of the Costa Concordia, and I started reading through it, I’m reading all these phenomenal assumptions about the captain’s behaviour. And here it is, his his an engineer, our surprise, surprise, the engineer interpreted the captain’s behaviour to be this. What would an engineer know about gesture, a be serious? Nothing. Nothing at all, but happy to cast judgement. Happy cast judgement. Because they know, you know, they’re, they’re the professors of measurement. And so they crucified that Captain on the basis of ignorance, they did not know what that behaviour indicated.


Nippin Anand  34:16

So interesting, isn’t it and and so much emphasis on on this dichotomy and kind of Newtonian methods and tools, and claim to understand human behaviour. That’s so paradoxical, isn’t it? Yes. This doesn’t make any sense. Rob, this is great. By the way. You know, I just wanted to tell you another story that really started about Costa Concordia. One moment, could not come to terms with the idea that the captain was not looking straight into the camera. He was looking on one side, and she said, she said this is an arrogant man who does not know he does not didn’t have the courage to face the camera. And I did tell her that there were two cameras in the room. And we purposely chose the other one, because it had a better resolution. So you can see, the symbolic understanding of gesture is completely misunderstood. Yes, yeah. All in search, too. And, you know, all in an attempt to just curb your, your, your anxiety to keep it in control?


Rob Long  35:23

Yes, yes. Yes. In Australia, in indigenous person. If they are humble, they look at the ground when they talk to you. And white people interpret that as arrogance. And so then they punish the Aboriginal, the indigenous person for being arrogant when it’s the opposite.


Nippin Anand  35:44

I can’t tell you how many times people have been offended in Singapore because I looked into their eyes. Yes, yes. Yeah, these people in positions of power and authority, they just don’t they expect you to look down as you speak to them.


Rob Long  35:58

Yes, correct. Yep. Great. Rob, this


Nippin Anand  36:00

has given me so much to think about. Wow. What did you think of the discussion? How did you think it went? Any questions, any thoughts, any feedback? I always love to hear that. Anything that you disagree with? Because that’s the only way we can learn and grow or understand where our biases are. Because I and Dr. Robert long might take that we have given you sufficient information on gestures. And sometimes people ask questions where you start to realise, maybe our own understanding is lacking some. So it’s only through dialogue, discussion and feedback that we get to understand where our biases are. And also, if you are interested to learn more about gestures, or read more about gestures, please feel free to contact me. I will definitely point you to the right literature. You can find me on my website, which is novellas dot solutions. You can also email us at support at Nobelist dot solutions. You can also find me on LinkedIn. And before you go, I just want to make an announcement that we have a workshop coming up in London, it’s called Social Psychology of risk. It’s a two day session. The first day is on social psychology of risk. The second day is on IQ engagement. And this is on the 23rd and 24th of February. So if you are in this part of the world, do join us if you can, I think we have very limited seats remaining now. Also, for those of you who are not from the UK and would like to learn more about our work in psychology of risk and IQ engagement. There’s two things you can do. You can join us on our weeklies taster sessions where we get together with a small group of people and help them understand what IQ engagement is all about what social psychology of risk is all about. And then we have a coaching series online starting in the middle of January, which is a nine week session on IQ as well as social psychology of race. So where we meet for an hour every week, and we help you understand the power of listening and observing using very intuitive and practical methods and tools. Details about both the London workshop as well as the online coaching session is available on our website www.novellus.solutions/events. Great. I hope you enjoyed this podcast and I look forward to seeing you again. Have a good evening or good day. Bye bye.

For more info visit our website: www.novellus.solutions