Feb 27

What does Your Body Language Convey to Others? – Part 2

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“Body Language in Coaching can be Ineffective Or a Tool for Effective Communication


The January Newsletter discussed the importance of being aware of one’s body language, and the impact as an effective communication tool in coaching. The second part examines specific signs of body language, gestures, and interpretations, and provides some guidelines


Signals of the Eyes

It is crucial to interpret the eye contact. They eyes are said to be the ‘mirror of the soul.’ Learning to ‘read’ and interpret eye movement is crucial. The eyes are powerful tools, very expressive, send many cues and signals, and detect tiny changes in the body language of others.

  • Consistent eye contact– indicates the person is thinking positively of what the speaker is saying. It can also mean that the other person doesn’t trust the speaker enough to take his/her eyes off the speaker.
  • Direct eye contact but ‘fiddling’ with something– points toward interest or the fact that attention is somewhere else.
  • Lack of eye contact– can mean negativity. However, people with anxiety disorders are often unable to make eye contact without some personal discomfort. Also, cultural difference may demand ‘lowering of the eyes’ due to respect or humility or subservience (for example, Indian natives or aboriginals… respect for the Elders)
  • Looking up to the left– indicates visual thinking and forming mental pictures.
  • Lowering the eyes– indicates modesty or submission. This may relate more to a sign of respect for others or could convey a feeling of inferiority.
  • Narrowing the eyes deliberately– conveys anguish and distaste. One has to be very aware of this as it may also be directed toward the person, who is the cause or source of that displayed feeling.
  • Attention invariable wanders and the eyes stare away for an extended period– denotes the person is not convinced by someone’s words.
  • Unfocused eyes– the person’s ‘mind is wandering; he/she’ is not paying attention; it may be a sign of boredom. Literally, he/she is not focused.
  • Averted gaze, touching the ear, or scratching the skinshows disbelief.
  • Glistening eyes– signal strong emotion of either distress, short of crying, or excitement such as passion and triumph.
  • Glaring eyes– used to intimidate and can illicit hostile reactions or responses.
  • Frequent blinking during conversation– denotes high interest. Some use it to seek attention.
  • Excessive blinking– is a well-known display of someone lying. However, recent evidence shows that the absence of blinking could also be a more reliable factor for lying than excessive blinking.
  • A wink with the closed eye directed at the person– implies a ‘shared’ secret.
  • Eye angle changes (even at a distance)– shows that attention is diverted away onto something. The precision timing of eye contact indicates interest, disinterest, or intimidation.
  • Eye pupil size changes– signals fluctuating emotions as interests peaks and/or wanes


Three States of Looking

These represent the different states of being:

  • Looking from one eye to the other eye and then to the forehead is a sign of taking an authoritative position.
  • Moving from one eye to the other eye and then to the nose signals that the person is engaging in ‘level’ conversation – with neither party holding superiority.
  • Looking from one eye to the other eye and then to the lips indicates a strong romantic feeling or flirting stage.



  • People with certain disabilities or those with autism use and understand body language differently, or not at all. Interpreting their gestures and facial expressions (or lack thereof) in the context of normal body language usually leads to misinterpretations and misunderstandings (especially, if body language is given priority over spoken language).
  • Signs and body signals tend to vary by cultural era, gender, and among people from various ethnic/racial groups, who could interpret body language in different ways.


Examples of Gestures and Interpretations

  • Hands on knees– Readiness
  • Hands on hips– Impatience
  • Locking hands behind the back– Self-control
  • Locked hands behind the head– Self-confidence
  • Sitting with leg over chair with legs folded– Indifference
  • Legs point in a particular direction– Into the direction of interest
  • Crossed arms– Submissiveness or defensiveness


Body Language and Space

Interpersonal space refers to the imaginary ‘psychological bubble’ when someone is standing way too close (people in an elevator!). Research reveals “four different zones of interpersonal space” in North America:

  • Intimate distance– ranges from touching to about 18” apart; it is the space around us that we reserve for close and intimate members.
  • Personal distance– begins about an arm length away, starting around 18” proximity and ending about 4’ away; it is used in conversation with friends and to chat with others during group discussion.
  • Social distance– ranges from 4-8 feet away; it applies to strangers, newly formed groups and new acquaintances.
  • Public distance– includes anything more that 8’ away; it is used for speeches, lectures, and theater; essentially, it is reserved for larger audiences.


Unintentional Gestures and Body Cues

Recently, new interest has centered on ‘unintentional cues’ such as:

  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Resting the chin
  • Touching the lips
  • Nose etching
  • Head scratching
  • Finger locking
  • Narrowing the eyes, ‘bulges’ in the cheeks and nose– is interpreted as a “cue of pain” (2010 research on facial recognition on mice to study human reaction of pain and subsequent expression). This is important to determine if an athlete is hurting, in pain, or using ‘discomfort’ as an excuse.


Sexual Interest and Body Language (the AHA… For you Male Coaches!)

It is important for any coach interacting especially with females, mixed gender, youth, and growing adolescent to understand signals that may indicate special personal or sexual interest on part of the athlete. Our role is to be aware, sensitive, and in control to avoid potential misleading or miss-interpretations, which in some instances lead to allegations and potential loss of the occupation! (it has ruined careers!)

‘Special Interest’ Indicators (Coaches, become aware of ‘female playfulness’ which can get you into trouble)

  • Exaggerated gestures and body movements
  • Echoing and mirroring the speaker
  • Room encompassing glances
  • Leg crossing
  • Pointing the knee at the speaker
  • Hair tossing or touching
  • Head tilting
  • Pelvic rotation
  • Showing wrists
  • Playing with ear rings wristbands, or other jewelry
  • Adjusting clothes
  • Laughing, giggling, and smiling for no reason
  • Eye contact
  • Touching the speaker
  • Playfulness
  • Seeking close proximity


Since verbal communication accounts between 7-10% of the overall means to convey a message one can never determine the truthfulness or sincerity of people by their words alone (Haynes, 2009). In fact, words transmitted verbally often do not reflect peoples’ thoughts or feelings.


We need to ‘See through’ the Emotions to determine

  • Interest
  • Boredom
  • Signals of excitement – frustration or dismay – anger – nervousness – tension – reassurance
  • Signals of authority or power
  • Ways a person is thinking
  • Ways a person acts to convey pride
  • A person is more open to agree
  • Actions to make someone trust you
  • Ways to build rapport
  • Ways to open conversations
  • Ways action-oriented people act or move
  • Ways confident people act or move
  • Ways to read and counteract potential objections
  • Ways to make lasting impressions
  • If a person is keeping a secret
  • If another person is suspicious
  • Ways to detect a liar


Guidelines to ‘Reading’ Body Language

  • Women tend to be more perceptive than men in this aspect.
  • Each movement or gesture is a valuable key to specific emotion a person may be feeling or is displaying. Remember that body language is more honest than spoken words!
  • The key to ‘reading’ someone’s body language is the understanding of the person’s emotional condition while listening to what he/she is saying, and the circumstances he/she is in while saying it (i.e., understand the emotional condition and/or context)
  • Think of specific coaching situations where this can be valuable!


Rules for Accurate Interpretation

  • Read Gestures in Clusters!
    • Recognizing a whole cluster is far more reliable than an isolated gesture.
  • Look for Congruence!
    • Non-verbal signals have 5 times more impact than verbal ones. When the two do not match, people tend to relay on the non-verbal and disregard the verbal.
  • Read Gestures in Context!
    • Interpret gestures based on the circumstance, environment or climate (tightly crossed arms)!


Awareness of Potential Communication Barriers

  • Be aware of potential social communication barriers
  • Gender, age, status and cultural norms influence BL
  • Different cultures use and express BL language in different ways
  • Autistic athletes use different BL
  • Athlete’s perception is different from the coach
  • Athlete may not be willing to work through the process
  • Athlete may lack the knowledge needed to understand fully the discussion
  • Athlete may be too emotional to grasp the communication
  • Athlete{s} may lack the motivation to listen
  • Coach may have difficulty to express him/herself clearly
  • Emotions of both parties may interfere with the communication process


Using ‘Open’ Body Language

  • There are several key behaviors, which enhance the so-called ‘Open’ body language, interpreted as an action that the other person is not ‘crossing,’ covering up, or hiding


Display of Positive Body Language

  • Be like the ‘solar system’ – ‘stand out!’
  • Remove any existing barriers with an easy smile and portray a feeling of being comfortable!
  • The other person is attracted more easily because the behavior denotes warmth, acceptance, and friendliness!
  • ‘Feel grounded!’ This builds up posture!
  • Be aware of posture (head, shoulders, back, abdominals and buttock muscles)!
  • Stand-tall with good posture, maintain eye contact at all times, keep the palms open and legs uncrossed, and turn the body toward the other party!
  • Posture and emotions need to be congruent!
  • The voice is calm, firm, and in a measured tone, which denotes authority and confidence!
  • Look confident and exude a sense of self-esteem!
  • Seek an opportunity to create a field of force and energy and be ‘present’ with the other person!
  • Make it an environment of attraction rather resentment!



  1. Michael

    Hello Monika,

    I love this stuff. It is so important – in every arena, every domain. And if one knows these characteristics, behaviors, etc. it is very powerful.

    The lists are great for those who know and recognize – most don’t and are too inexperienced and unaware. You might develop these more in subsequent postings. More important is to observe and to practice. This is an entire workshop on its own.



    1. coach

      I re-read your reply. Thank you for your input. Hopefully, you like the 3-part series (last one is March News).
      I do mentoring of coaches actual coaching and evaluate the practice sessions (3-6) in terms of planning sequence, feedback, error detection/correction, language used, coaching behaviour, efficient delivery.

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