Body Language when Coaching

This is a summary of the open space session I initiated at the beginning of the 2nd day of Agile Coach Camp Norway.  The title was ‘Body Language when Coaching’.  I wanted to learn more about the impact of body movements, positions and facial expressions and the impact while coaching on a personal and team level.

This is a summary of our discussions:

What types of body language do we know and what feeling do we associate it with?

  • Rolling you eyes: perceived as disagreement or frustration
  • Crossing your arms: holding back, protecting yourself.
  • Leaning back: giving someone else the chance to share info
  • Leaning forward: showing interest, wanting to engage.
  • Lifting eyebrows: puzzled with something, astonishment
  • Touching someone’s arm: sharing, caring, personal
  • Stepping back from a circle: disengaging from group
  • Mirroring your conversation partner’s position: agreeing, feeling connected.

What can you do when notice conflicts by a change in people’s body language?

The following technique was used by one of the session participants and he experienced it as very effective: When you’re having a team meeting and you notice someone tells by his body language that there is an issue, for instance by rolling his eyes, you can stop the conversation and ask in a supportive way what the person is struggling with.  It might be a misunderstanding, a difference in viewpoint, a feeling of rejection,… 
The point is that it is OK to share your mental models and we want everybody on the team to feel comfortable and included.  We respect all opinions and try to reach a common agreement.

Any great tips to improve your body language for training or public speaking?

  • You can learn a lot by asking someone in the audience to observe your presentation style and taking notes.  This way, he can share his observations after the session and you can work on your weak points.  Maybe even record the session on video, so you can look at the performance yourself afterwards.
  • You can also take voice coaching to improve your speech and volume, especially when you have to talk a lot and often have a sore throat.
  • Join communities like Toastmasters to practice and improve your speaking skills.

Some general body language tips to use when coaching

  • Try to look relaxed without coming over as nonchalant.
  • Put yourself at eye level of your conversation partner.
  • Don’t get too familiar if you just met, but don’t be too neutral either.
  • Keep eye contact, especially when the other is talking.

We talked a bit about the cultural differences in body language.

For instance: People from Southern Europe sit much closer together when pair programming than people from the North.  They have more physical contact when interacting with each other with bigger gestures.

We also briefly discussed autism and what difficulties this brings in reading body language.  Apparently the IT business has a higher percentage of people with asperger’s syndrome.  This can cause misreading body language and lead to misunderstandings.

This was an interesting sessions, thanks to all participants for sharing their views and experiences.

To conclude, here’s a list with some related information that was recommended during the session:

The Core Protocols – Jim & Michele McCarthy

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell



About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

7 comments

  1. Always good to take these things in context. I often see folded arms, because people are simply cold. Or a touch on the shoulder is the ++ of flirtations (yeah I know, people are supposed to be professional at work, but it doesn’t always happen).

    Anyway, great write up. 🙂 Just had to throw my 2 cents in there about some of these behaviors.

    • Thanks for the comment, Adron.
      You made a valid point there! Context is very important when talking about body language.
      During the open space session, this was an always recurring theme.
      There are huge cultural differences. Even between companies in the same culture, or on a personal level.
      One thing we concluded after the session is that you can achieve better results as a coach if you’re aware of the body language of yourself and others, in the specific context.

  2. Copyright C 2007 Elena Solomon author of .Those days everybody talks about body language – performance experts life coaches gossip columnists and dating gurus. The dictionary gives this definition to body language The gestures postures and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical mental or emotional states and communicates nonverbally with others. I have been interested in body language for years and after reading a few dozens of books all you need to know can be summarized in 4 simple points 1. Body Language Is A Form Of Communication Whether you realize it or not your body sends unmistakable signals to people around you.

  3. Great topic Nick,

    Your writing about NLP?

    • Pierre,
      Not really, I don’t have any experience in NLP.
      Just a topic I’m interested in and wanting to learn more about.
      That’s why I proposed it at a session at the open space at agile coach camp Norway.

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