Jan 30

What does Your Body Language Convey to Others? – Part 1

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Have you ever thought about your body language when communicating with athletes, parents, club administrators, speaking in the public, or when attending competitions or games? I did a study back in 2010 on pictures of coaches in various sports. Look at the below pictures carefully and maybe you see yourself!





Common Behaviors and Gestures
Observed by Others
Oh Dear! What a mess!
Is he really listening? ‘Tuning’ out the Coach?


Oh Yes! One of the favourite poses!
Except Swim coaches swing their Stopwatch!
Does he look engaged? Bored? Disinterested OR What?


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

Part 1



…Coaching at its core is an exercise in trust. Athletes depend on coaches for knowledge, guidance, inspiration, and motivation. They rely on coaches to set the parameters by which athletes can strive for their best… John Dalla Costa on the “value of trust” (Center for Ethical Orientation, Toronto, Canada)


…Body Language is the outward reflection of a person’s emotional condition, defined as gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states and communicates non-verbally with others…


It is easy to make assumptions when we try to ‘read’ someone’s body language based on a single movement or gesture, especially when verbal meanings are unclear. Shaking hands, shrugging, nodding, and shaking the head are more apparent behaviors nowadays than in earlier civilizations. Historically, body language is categorized as a form of para-language in which non-verbal communication elements hold and convey meaning during personal interaction. True meaning is more likely to come across in groups or clusters of behaviors. If the person is crossing arms in response to something that is/was said he/she might be just cold. On the other hand, a person crossing arms and looking away clearly communicates a stronger message of displeasure or disagreement. People typically exhibit three types of behavior: touch, body position, and body movement. These come in clusters of signals and/or postures; they happen at the same time and convey a person’s feelings very clearly. One has to be aware and sensitive, however, that people from other cultures are likely to use body language in different ways, depending on their social norms.


  • Touch or haptic communication (sense of touch) is the more intimate of the three, implying friendship or domination or both. It may be used to get someone’s attention, express sympathy or intimacy. The way we move within a group or stand-alone can convey the way we actually feel about ourselves.
  • Kinesic communication is sent by the way we stand or sit, gestures we use, and our facial expressions (i.e., interpretation of body language such as facial expressions, gestures or, more formally, non-verbal behavior related to movement, either of any part of the body or the body as a whole). Generally, the more space we take up, the more comfortable and assertive we feel. Facial expressions relay important information regarding our emotions, and/or ability to understand what’s going on around us, whereas gestures add emphasis to the words we say.
  • Proximal communication has to do with the way we position our body when interacting with others. There are degrees of personal space: Up close or an arm length’s away – indicates the trust we have in the other person or knowing the other person well. The direction we angle the body in relation to another: face-to-face or at an angle provides clues as to the level of intimacy or potential confrontation.

Multiple demands by athletes, parents, and club administrators create pressures, which can influence daily coaching behavior unless one has developed specific coping strategies. According to research, 60-80 % of initial opinion is formed in less than four minutes as athletes make judgments whether or not the coach is approachable (interpreted as easy to talk to, friendly, amicable, sociable, open) or unapproachable for that day (perceived as distant, unfriendly, grumpy, aloof, cold, and/or standoffish). Such interpretation is critical for coach-athlete interaction since the “coach is the true agent of change” in any sport environment. Coaches are, however, not always aware of the immediate affect of their body language or emotional signals they send off. Yet, they are on ‘display, observed and studied’ by athletes before, during and after training; before competition or event; during competition or event; after competition or event; during debriefing or evaluation; during non-training and/or social situations. “See yourself as a book that interested people read – whether or not you want them to”… And one should always remember, “Pictures are worth a thousand words!”

It is said, “the world’s greatest leaders throughout history have been good orators and use great body language to be effective in their delivery.” Similarly, coaches need to display effort, enthusiasm, and passion to motivate their athletes. Statistics imply that without body language up to 50-65% of human communication is lost or at least unreadable. Subconscious gestures with hands, facial expressions and body language can often communicate more clearly the ‘true’ meaning. Most of us are a reflection of our parents…they taught us that being emotional is acceptable or …“Men don’t cry”… Males and females employ pretty much the same body language although women might use it more than men. However, cultural norms influence body language based on gender, age, status, and specific culture, which can be misinterpreted or can elicit unexpected responses. Body language speaks volumes as a form of non-verbal communication involving stylized gestures, postures, body poses, eye movements, and physiological signs, which act as cues to others. Humans send and receive non-verbal signals all the time, and interpret such signals subconsciously. Body language and words have to be absolutely in sync because true meaning comes from gestures, not necessarily from words. Someone stated that, “words are the spaghetti sauce while spaghetti is the expression of the body.” Therefore, we need to give off images that make people trust us. Most of us may not know or realize the extent of signals we send. This means, ‘the way’ we say it – not just ‘what’ we say, is equally important. For example, we move the face, make visible gestures and exhibit subconscious actions like breathing shifts, sighs, huffs, heaves, puffs, gasps, sulking, changes of voice and skin tone. Body language can denote pleasure and displeasure, happiness and sadness, comfort and discomfort, interest and disinterest, frustration, doubt, confusion, and personal needs. On the other hand, when the feelings of a person are revealed the underlying reason of such emotion is not. Interpretation and knowledge of the motive of that feeling is necessary for accurate detection.

Micro expressions are facial expressions when people try to repress or suppress an emotion. If they are unable to do so completely, emotions may flash onto the face very rapidly sometimes for as short as 1/125th of a second. Micro expressions along with hand gestures and posture send off signals that register almost immediately, like a ‘silent orchestra with a long-lasting repercussion.’ Although many of us use these fleeting expressions, about 85% of people can improve them. There are some misconceptions about the statistics of non-verbal communication. In the 1970s, Albert Mehrabian established the 7% – 38% – 55% rule to denote the amount of communication conferred by words, tone, and body language. The findings of that particular study reveal that the words we speak only convey about 7% of the overall message sent; 38% is attributed to voice tone or inflection and 55% to body language. His findings, however, have been somewhat generalized to 7% (verbal), 38%, and 55% (total 93%) as a working formula for communication. In fact, these numbers only reflect the results of that particular study; they are more about the importance of visuals and the degree to which we rely on them during communication. Mehrabian was only referring to cases that expressed feelings or attitudes such as a person saying…I do not have a problem with you… whereby the focus is on the tone of voice and body language of the person rather than the actual spoken words. It is therefore a common misconception that these percentages apply to all communication. Disagreement among experts puts the level of non-verbal communication as high as 80% while others propose 60-70%, although it could be around 50-65%, according to some.

Regardless of these differences, “the way something is said” inclusive body language and eye contact is 13 times more important than the information given since body language can undermine the message or information.” In essence, words and gestures can say something totally different whereas body language is more reliable than facial expressions. For example, when the face and body in photographs showed conflicting emotions, participants’ judgment of facial expression was impeded and became biased toward the emotion expressed by the body. The brain possesses the mechanism sensitive to the agreement between facial expression and body language and can evaluate information quickly. On the other hand, various studies show facial communication to be believed 4.3 times more often than verbal meaning. Other findings denote that verbal communication in a flat tone is 4 times more likely to be understood than pure facial expression. Some experts estimate that human communication consists of 93% body language and para-linguistic cues (Para-language refers to the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion; the study of paralanguage is known as para-linguistics). Para-language may be expressed consciously or subconsciously, including voice pitch and volume, in some cases intonation of speech (grammar), and at times the definition is restricted to vocally produced sounds.


Reading’ People’s Body Language

Physical Expression

  • Kinesics is known as the study of body movement and expressions. Physical expressions such as waving, pointing, touching and slouching are forms of non-verbal communication. Gestures can emphasize a point or relay a message; posture can reveal boredom or great interest; touch can convey encouragement or caution; mirroring someone’s body language indicates that he/she is understood.



  • Crossing arms over the chest– sends a basic and powerful body signal, erecting an unconscious barrier between oneself and the other (although the person might be cold, usually clarified by rubbing hands or huddling). In a serious confrontational situation when the person also leans away from the speaker, it means an expression of opposition.
  • Looking at the speaker while crossing the arms– indicates the person is bothered but wants to talk.
  • Posture or extended eye contact, and standing properly while listening– shows interest.
  • Hand gesture at sides– is interpreted as a drop of energy while bringing the hand closer to the chest is understood as signs of energy, excitement and motivation.
  • Walking up behind a person– is taken as alerting and intimidating, or assuming there is a problem.
  • High-pitched or shrill voice (common in females), flat or monotonous voice is difficult for the listener. One should always a) speak clearly and exercise articulation; b) vary the
    pitch and pace and c) insert correct pauses to ‘catch’ the listener’s interest. Most men in general battle to modulate the voice (change the tone, volume, frequency) while women usually need to pay special attention to resonance (quality, volume, pitch) as a lower voice quality has been found to be more effective.


Body Posturing or Posing

  • Pacing while talking with repetitive gestures detract. Gestures need to be expressive, emphasizing the message or content but need to be neutral.
  • Harsh or blank facial expression– often denotes outright hostility.
  • Touching one’s face during conversation– can sometimes denote deceit or an act of withholding information.
  • Tilting the head to one side or eyes looking straight ahead at the speaker but becoming slightly unfocused– indicates boredom. On the other hand, a head tilt may point to a sore neck, or amblyopia (‘lazy eye’), and/or other ocular problems by the listener. So, correct interpretation is essential.
  • Tilting the head to one side and showing the ear– means the person is actually listening. People may start to mirror, causing the other person to tilt the head and listen more.
  • Tensing and releasing face and scalp muscles– is evidence of emotional changes as are changes of skin tone and texture.


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