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I am not a native British but generally in a large group when we want something from someone, we point out to them or say name, so in our scrum meeting (as it is large), I pointed out X to sit me with me and do it, and he said "Oh he is pointing finger at me", than a while later I asked Y, that if you can review it, then Y, said "there that finger again".

Got me thinking if it means something wrong or it is considered bad to point the finger?

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    What are you asking X to do? Are you physically pointing a finger or metaphorically – Twyxz Jun 12 at 9:05
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    As the answers point out, it seems you are either being mocked, or it seems you are pointing the blame. You should never point, it's diminishing and blatantly rude. The answers cover what to do instead but importantly, try to learn the names of your employees and use their names instead, much more professional and respectful. – Twyxz Jun 12 at 9:23
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    FWIW, this is typically a bad thing to do in the USA too. – Mister Positive Jun 12 at 11:47
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    @cookieMonster Etiquette from 70 years ago may not be relevant today, Uncle Same is an authority figure relative to anyone viewing such a poster and can "get away" with diminutive behavior, and singling out the viewer was the point of those posters. Just because a cartoon character does something doesn't mean that it would be totally acceptable for you to do that thing in a totally different context. The takeaway should be to not point at business peers, rather than to look for technicalities that superficially justify a behavior you already engage in. – Upper_Case Jun 12 at 15:26
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    If British people are being that openly rude about your actions, I guess it is bad in the UK. – Azor Ahai Jun 12 at 19:41
52

I'd say in general in the UK it's rude to point with a finger at someone while in conversation because it comes off pretty aggressive. It's not obscene like swearing using a finger but it's not polite either.

Perhaps if you want to gesture toward someone you might consider using an open palm instead (specifically a sort of underhand-open-palm as if you were showing someone to a seat) as it's far more of a gentle gesture in my opinion.

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    Indeed, or just make eye contact with them while saying their name... – colmde Jun 12 at 9:29
11

I'm from the Netherlands, and I occasionally see the gesture when someone becomes a little agitated. When addressing someone, I habitually mention someone's name, pause a half-second while waiting for eye contact, then I address them directly. As the Dutch (and the British, in my experience) are not inclined to gesticulate, pointing is a distinguishing feature of other cultures that I tend to notice.

Your colleagues are probably just noticing a trait of yours. If you are assigning blame, ridiculing someone, or may cause someone embarrassment, then it is considered rude. The angry finger point is considered aggressive. In another context it will just be 'interesting' or 'different', and may thus lead to a little teasing.

At an early age, many Dutch people are taught not to point (at people). I now understand the convention to be contextual, and I exclusively point when I want to direct someone's attention to an object (or person) that is otherwise hard to notice. I never got into the habit of pointing in everyday conversation, or when addressing a person directly.

Why do I think I grew to be this way?

As a child, you learn through shared attention. When you are observing something in private, your parents may physically point at something that they want to draw your attention to: "Look at the cow, what does the cow say?"

My theory is that Dutch parents do not point if there is a risk that a bystander may think that they're the subject of their attention. As a child we are still learning about social conventions and so we point at everything we want our parents to notice. And many parents in my social circles are quick to correct the behavior if it is likely to cause a stranger embarrassment:

  • Pointing at a dog in a field? Fine!
  • Pointing at the toy you want? Fine!
  • Happily pointing at a family member who walks into the garden? No correction!
  • Pointing at the man with the funny hat? Rude!
  • Pointing at your grandma, but now that stranger that is 30 meters away looks at papa as if we were pointing at her? Very embarrassing!

I think that inconsistent punishment conditions kids to try other solutions, so pointing as a casual gesture in conversation is discouraged. To me, pointing directly at someone in a conversation is associated with assigning blame, directed anger or ridicule - the few times I have seen someone use it in recent years, was when they were frustrated, angry or malicious. I don't often see someone use it casually. If you were to point resolutely at me when you assign me a task, I might need a second or two to realize that it's all in good fun.

5

"Pointing the finger" is an idiom which usually means blaming someone for something, (also "the finger of blame").

In this case I suspect that its literally indicative on your part; "that Person", "Brian", accompanied by an index finger (or sometimes the thumb if said person is immediately to one side or behind) and that no blame is implied.

Do you do this a lot? It sounds like your colleagues are gently mocking your habit, "laughing with you, not at you". Don't worry about it, or if it bothers you, make a conscious effort to do it less frequently, or even sometimes at yourself.

  • Do I apologize to them and tell them I do not know it was a rude gesture? – user15704 Jun 12 at 9:18
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    You can do. Example "Ah, sorry. I didn't realise it was rude here. When is it offensive to do this?" The answer will be dependent on the context, but it allows for a non aggressive discussion. I might say "Sorry", then point at someone, smiling, and say "Are you offended?". But then I'm often accused of taking nothing seriously. There are far worse things you can do or say. – Justin Jun 12 at 10:31
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    Mocking someone's habit that they don't understand is a faux pas and not explaining the joke is most emphatically not "laughing with" someone. – AGirlHasNoName Jun 12 at 10:57
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Pointing fingers (physically or metaphorically) or saying the word "you" (to refer either to an individual or a team) will automatically make people feel that they need to be defensive. You are blaming them personally for whatever you're talking about, and they either had nothing to do with it, or genuinely did their best.

Teams don't work well when there's an internal "us vs them" going on.

If the goal is to hold a specific person to account for something they've done then "you" is a great word. It will put them on the defensive, and great: that's what you want. In the vast majority of cases though, our goal is to make people want to take greater ownership, to improve the effectiveness of the team and to improve the throughput that's being delivered.

I'd suggest that in those (in my experience more common) cases, there's nothing to be gained from putting people on the defensive, and in fact it will harm the actual goal.

2

Pronoun note: Use YOU when you can talk about benefits -- this will help YOU solve XYZ more independently, so you can do more work from home.

Use I/We when it's a problem: I noticed that we haven't received your payment. (NOT "you owe us")

At Disney, employees must point with 2 fingers (together) or the whole hand -- this is easier to see, less aggressive, and is apparently a stage toddlers go through.

(My friends who have worked WDW in the past say they were encouraged to use whole-hand, palm-toward-guest, but most articles I'm finding mention 2-finger points. http://www.nerdism.com/disney-employees-never-point-with-one-finger/ )

  • A two-finger point might also be misconstrued as a 'finger gun' en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger_gun – Owain Jun 12 at 16:46
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    Airline stewardesses also point with all five fingers. It's because some anthropologist/sociologist determined that four or fewer fingers was somehow rude in one culture or another, but not all five fingers at once. – RonJohn Jun 12 at 18:53
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    @RonJohn I only have 4 fingers plus a thumb... – Solar Mike Jun 12 at 18:55
  • @SolarMike thus you get the number 18 when counting your fingers and toes? – RonJohn Jun 12 at 18:58
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    @RonJohn [citation needed]. It seems much more likely that it's because the whole hand is much easier to see than a single finger. – David Richerby Jun 12 at 19:35

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