It's not what you say (24 April 2015)

Much of my coaching these days is done via skype; I prefer face-to-face discussion, myself, but it just isn’t always possible. It means I can link up with clients in distant places – I have recently been coaching someone in Zimbabwe, and have worked with clients in Dubai, India and Malawi. While in Kenya recently, I had to connect with someone in Rwanda – and the quality of connection was much better than some I have struggled with from east to west London.

Skype can be sound only, or with video. I have noticed, as a coach, that the video is far more revealing – even if it does strain the bandwidth! In a recent skype video call, not to Africa or Asia but to a somewhat less exotic location north of London, I became very aware of the client’s body language. It was indicative of irritation, confusion, frustration – or so it seemed to me. She was constantly shifting, looking to the left and right, sweeping back her hair – showing agitation. She had totally forgotten the video was on.

She was describing fairly calmly a situation she faced at work, where others were impeding her, even though she felt she had been assigned the decision-making role. But her body language showed the depth of her feelings. We dealt with the practicialities of her situation; but we are having a follow-up session to explore why she feels so deeply about this and other perceived underminings in previous roles. In the best coaching tradition, she suggested the second session; my open questions, based on my perception that she was really hurting, led her to that option, which will enable us to go a little deeper into what issues she has, and how she can best manage them. All this might have been missed with a telephone session or audio-only skype.

So what is our body language telling others about what we feel? Perhaps more than we wish. Research suggests 60% of our communication comes from our actions, not what we say; we say more with a glance and gesture than a hundred words. Noticing the signals that people send out with their body language is a very useful social skill for everyone, but especially for coaches. Try testing the ideas below about body language: and, remember, you may be saying through your body language all sorts of things that you don’t want to communicate – or do you?!

All the best

Graham

Examples of Body Language
1. Physical closeness: the closer someone is to you, the warmer they are thinking of you. If you move slightly closer to them, do they move slightly further away?
 

2. Head position: overly tilted heads are either a potential sign of sympathy, or if a person smiles while tilting their head, they like you: lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something
 

3. Eye Contact: looking to the sides a lot can mean someone is nervous, lying, or distracted. But some cultures believe that looking at someone in the eyes is a sign of disrespect, or is only done with intimate friends or family
 

4. Mirroring: if someone mirrors, or mimics your appearance, this is a very genuine sign that they are interested in you and trying to establish rapport with you
 

5. Arms: people with crossed arms are closing themselves to social influence, maybe reserved or uncomfortable
 

6. Nervous Gestures: for example, if someone brushes their hair back with their fingers, this may be preening, a common gesture if the person likes you, or their thoughts about something conflict with yours. They might not voice this
 

7. Feet: fast tapping, shifting of weight, laughing, or movement of the foot will most often mean that the person is impatient, excited, nervous, scared, or intimidated

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