Mar 30

What does Your Body Language Convey to Others? – Part 3

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

Part 3

In previous newsletters, we discussed the importance of body language as an effective communication tool in coaching as well as specific signs, gestures, and interpretations of body language. This third and final part focuses on “Active Listening Skills”, and provides some Guidelines.

The ability to listen is one of the most important communication skills and it is a fundamental leadership skill. Coaches are said to be the worst ‘Listeners!” as over 50% of coaches do not listen, according to research. It is vital because it makes the coach more effective and productive, creates the opportunity to build rapport and show support. It produces a better teaching/coaching environment, facilitates the process when trying to resolve problems, helps to answer questions, and assists in finding underlying meanings in what others have to say. The ability to listen is a learned skill. It is NOT easy! As some one said in jest…“We were given two ears but only one mouth. This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking”…

Listening Effectively

We can divide listening skills into several stages:

  • Hear the words
  • Focus on the message
  • Understand and interpret the message
  • Analyze and evaluate the message
  • Respond to the message
  • Remember the message


Five Levels of Listening

“Seek first to understand before being understood (Covey, 1998, p. 124). This emphasizes the importance of listening at a level that goes beyond “just hearing word.” There are five levels of listening, according to Covey.

  • Ignoring
    • Not trying to listen!
  • Pretending
    • Listening even though you are NOT!
  • Listening Selectively
    • To only what interests you!
  • Attentive Listening***
    • Use this level most of the time
    • Involves listening to understand the speaker… And … comparing what he/she says with your point of view


Guidelines to “Attentive” Listening

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Can look into the eyes or focus on the face
  • Can look away – because constant eye contact may distract the speaker
  • Use body language that shows interest
  • Lean toward the speaker
  • Nod or shake the head to show you are listening
  • Hand or arm on the shoulder can signal reassurance or understanding
  • Affirm you are listening
  • Acknowledge that you are listening with responses such as: mh, uh-uh, oh my, okay, and I see
  • Listen to the full thought – avoid interrupting
  • Restate the speaker’s words
  • Ask questions to clarify or learn more


Listening with “Empathy”

Listening with empathy** involves “both the heart and mind to understand the speaker’s words, intent, and feelings” (Covey, 2007).

  • Restating what the speaker says in his/her words shows you heard the words.
  • To begin to understand the underlying meaning of the words – rephrase what the speaker is saying in your own words
  • To get the real message in the conversation, reflect the feelings you are hearing in your own words
  • Until you address the feelings, you won’t understand what is being communicated


Guidelines to Listening with “Empathy”

  • Check your defensive reactions
  • If a topic is emotional for the speaker you may react strongly
  • Instead of listening, you want to respond or defend
  • If you don’t check this reaction, you will most likely ‘shut down’ any further real communication
  • If you feel yourself ‘getting defensive” – try to stay ‘curious’ – ask questions, or make a Non-judgmental comment…like ‘hmm’


Barriers to Listening

Many kinds of distractions interfere with our ability to hear, listen to, and understand athletes or others. Some distractions are easier identified as so-called barriers:

  • Environmental
    • Noise – others talking nearby – public address system – announcements – music –traffic – iPods
    • Too hot-cold – too windy
    • Weather conditions
    • Being hungry – tired – headache – upset stomach – getting chilled – other ailments
    • Chairs are uncomfortable as are bleachers (!) – desk or table between the parties involved
    • If one has a physical advantage such as height
    • Height is artificially created y the setting chairs, bleachers, viewing area
    • Wearing wet clothes (swimmer)


  • Physiological
  • Our ability to think is 5x faster than we speak
  • Creates a natural lapse where we fill in the time with our thoughts instead of staying focused on the speaker
  • ‘Jumping ahead’ with our thoughts
  • Colds and ear infections may interfere
  • Speech problems may interfere (some stutter when nervous)
  • Pronunciation, accent, errors or misuse of words may interfere


  • Psychological barriers are more difficult to identify
  • If someone criticizes you, you may fixate on that and hear very little else or hear it through the ‘filter’ of being criticized (selective hearing)
  • Athletes (others) may shut down attempts to communicate with you if your verbal and Non-verbal indicates you are not interested
  • Body language indicates that you rather be somewhere else
  • Body language indicates you think your ideas have more merit
  • We all have ‘hot button’ words that may trigger our reactions
  • We get ‘lost’ in the emotions to respond to those words
  • We can compound the barrier with the assumptions we make about the people who use those words
  • If you are not sure of the reason you are listening – you will be poorly motivated to do so


  • Social barriers (See previous)


Guidelines to Effective Listening

  • STOP! Whatever you are doing!
  • LOOK! Make eye contact and face the other party squarely!
  • LISTEN! Listen carefully to words and emotions combined!
  • USE non-verbal cues like nodding to show compassion, sympathy or understanding!
  • PATIENCE! Always allow the other party to finish, especially when emotions are involved!
  • RESPOND! Re-state or rephrase to ensure both parties understand clearly!
  • QUESTION! Ask questions for more information or clarity!


Sabotaging the Intention to Understand

If you want to understand the other person, you need to keep focus on him/her…

If you turn the focus on yourself by interjecting and/or trying to fit what he/she is saying into your perspective, it becomes difficult to truly understand what is being said.

  • Judging the other person
  • Deciding whether the other’s viewpoint is right or wrong
  • Explaining to other person what you think underlies his/her ideas or opinions
  • Turning the conversation around to your viewpoint
  • Giving advice (unless specifically asked)


Coaches should become familiar with the rules for accurate interpretation and increase their understanding of potential communication barriers. It is critical for the coach-athlete interaction to develop special awareness, sensitivity, and techniques to ‘read’ body language effectively [females are found to be more perceptive, according to research]. This includes body gestures, unintentional signs, body posturing and poses, physical and emotional indicators, eye signals, body language and space (proximity), etc. Foremost, coaches should become skilled at presenting themselves with ‘open’ and positive body language and improve listening skills. Repeated video observation is one tool to identify respective personal communication skills and/or behavior, followed by practicing effective body language during daily interaction. Ultimately, the way we communicate plays a large role when making a good impression. Upright posture, eye, contact, handshake, the way we dress, and the ability to ‘read’ the body language of others is significant for personal interaction and successful human relationships.


Practicing Effective Body Language and Awareness

  • Consider the respective sport culture, cultural/ethnic, and gender differences!
  • Consider any language barrier and English as a second language!
  • Match voice and pace!
  • Match body language [mirror] with the other party!
  • Write down key points for better communication!
  • Become aware of personal tendencies under stress!
  • Use video taping to analyze personal gesture habits and communication skills!
  • Attempt to coach a portion of the daily training without using words (!).


The Coach should

  • Realize that body language is more honest than spoken words!
  • Become sensitive to the signals being transmitted by athletes at all times!
  • Pay special attention to ‘reading’ athletes’ emotional signals in competition!
  • Learn to identify the differential signals by athletes under stress, nervousness, and confidence!


Communication is Most Successful WHEN

  • Both sender and receiver understand the same message!
  • It is a 2-Way Communication Process and Coaches
    • Listen to the ‘pulse’ of athletes and watch for Non-verbal cues!
    • Ask a lot of questions to engage the athlete{s}
    • Avoid the “WHY” question format (Why did you do this? … Why do you think or feel that way?) This type of questioning puts the other party on the defensive! The communication becomes reactionary or negative.
      • Instead say … you did this, say this, believe this, and feel that way because…? The process becomes one of ‘thinking’ than an emotional and defensive response.
    • Realize that 50% of coaching is ‘listening
    • Practice to improve listening skills!
    • Possess and demonstrate ‘great’ listening skills!
  • Practice effective BL during training
  • Videotape BL to improve the process



Coaching Association of Canada (2008). Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). Coaching and leading effectively. Version 1.3. Reference material (pp.14-17). Ottawa, ON, CAN: Coaching Association of Canada.

Covey, S. R. (1998). The 7 habits of highly effective people training manual. Version 2.0. Salt Lake City, UT: Franklin Covey.

Covey, S. R. (2005). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Imprint of John Wiley & Sons.


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