As snowboard instructors and trainers, we often find ourselves talking and talking and talking and talking—you get the gist. However, I think if you can force yourself to be conscious of the way you and others communicate nonverbally, you will find that you are able to not only communicate better with students and trainees, but also you will be able to pick up on how your students are truly feeling and understand them.
First, let’s look at some different types of nonverbal communication:
FACIAL EXPRESSIONS – We as humans are constantly making facial expressions whether we want to or not. We can communicate many emotions through this form of nonverbal communication without saying a word. Unlike other forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal—no matter what the culture, the facial expressions for fear, anger, happiness, surprise, sadness, and disgust are all the same.
BODY MOVEMENTS AND POSTURE – Think about what your first impression is of someone by how they hold their head, the way they walk, sit, or stand up. The way people move and carry themselves holds a wealth of information. This includes posture, stance, and other subtle movements.
EYE CONTACT – Eye contact is an especially important form of nonverbal communication. The way someone looks at you or you look at them can communicate many things—from anger or interest to attraction. Eye contact is very useful in keeping a steady flow in conversation and gauging the person’s response to what we are saying. This is very useful for us as instructors and trainers when we are communicating an important topic or skill.
TOUCH – Try to imagine someone giving you a weak handshake versus a strong one and how you interpret that. Many things can be communicated through this type of nonverbal communication—such as assurance and comfort level. Think about a big bear hug or a controlling grip on your arm and what you interpret that to mean.
SPACE – We all have had moments where we felt like our personal space was being invaded by someone in a conversation. We all need a certain degree of personal space, which varies depending on the situation and who we are around. You can communicate things like intimacy, affection, aggression, or dominance by how much personal space you keep.
GESTURES – We all wave, point, or use our hands to communicate something more effectively. This type of nonverbal communication is different from culture to culture, so it is important to be aware of the gestures you are making and not offend anyone.
VOICE – We say much more than just our words—it’s how we say our words that is important. When we put inflection on our words, we are trying to communicate a specific emotion or attitude toward what we are speaking about. Therefore, we can read people’s voices to better understand them. This includes the pace, timing, and volume at which they speak. You can convey interest, disinterest, happiness, anger, and many more things with your voice.
We all communicate nonverbally whether we want to or not. These things affect our interactions with every person we meet. If we can learn to use this type of interaction in a positive way in snowsport instruction, it will greatly improve the quality of our lessons and clinics. But how can we put this knowledge of the various types of nonverbal communication into use in our lessons and clinics?
READ YOUR STUDENTS
We can read nonverbal communication before we even meet our students. It is possible to learn a lot about a person as they are walking up to you. Try to look at how the student is walking. Do they appear tired? Maybe their shoulders are slouched and they are taking very small steps—this could be a sign that they did not sleep well or are very tired from traveling. From this you can tell that the pace of your lesson may need to be slower to accommodate the energy level of your student.
What is the facial expression of the person as they approach you? Are they smiling? Maybe they are excited to be there. Now you know that it won’t be too hard to sell them on the idea of snowboarding, because it is clear they want to be there. What if they are frowning or have a scowl on their face? Maybe someone has put them in a lesson that they really don’t want to be in. You might have to get them in a positive state of mind about snowboarding for them to really give it their best shot.
Just from watching this person walk up to the lesson, you have already begun planning a successful day.
When we introduce ourselves to our students, we continue to make more observations about how and what they are communicating nonverbally. This is the first time that we are interacting with them, so it is very important that we are aware of our own nonverbal communication. Try to observe things like eye contact, physical touch, and closeness of personal space. If someone doesn’t look you in the eye, keeps their distance from you, and doesn’t offer a handshake or some sort of acknowledgment, it is very possible they are nervous about the lesson. In which case, it will be important for you to address their concerns and make them feel comfortable.
If they approach you with a hearty handshake, look into your eyes, and introduce themselves, on the other hand, you can tell that they have confidence and are comfortable in the group setting. You can use this person to your advantage in the group, maybe by asking them questions first to help set the vibe of the group for the day.
STUDENTS READ YOU
When we introduce ourselves to our students, they will also begin to make judgments about us and how the day is going to go. Typically, nonverbal communication is what is read first by most people, so the better we can present ourselves nonverbally, the better our words will be received.
First, think about the way you would like to be perceived by your students. Do you want them to read confidence, leadership, friendship, or dominance? How you choose to present yourself nonverbally will be a large part of how people will interpret you. Then, when you read someone else’s nonverbal communication, you will be able to adjust yours to fit the needs of the student.
As human beings, when there is a disconnect between what words and nonverbal communication say, research shows that we naturally choose the nonverbal. When we pick up on a disconnect, it makes us mistrust the person. As snowboard instructors and trainers, it is very important that our students and trainees trust us and what we are saying—so we need to make sure that our words match up with our nonverbal communication.
Now, sometimes we misread nonverbal communication, so it is also very important that we use reading it as a tool but not make too many assumptions. Sometimes a student will have had the day of their lives but may not be jumping up and down about it. If we interpret this as them being unhappy with the lesson, we might be wrong, so it is very important that we tune into people on an individual basis the more we get to know them, and not lump everyone into the same category. We all have friends or loved ones who we can read better than most other people, so we know when they are being deceitful, happy, or grumpy—all by the way they are nonverbally communicating. The better we know someone, the more we will be able to accurately read them. This is why the more time we put in getting to know our students, the more accurate our reading of their nonverbal communication will be.
TUNE IN TO NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION
As we go through our lessons, we can use our ability to read nonverbal communication to help us know if what we are saying and teaching is being received well. For example, someone will probably show signs of fear nonverbally before they ever speak up about it. If we can tune into this we could pick up on it and address it before it ever becomes an issue.
The more we are in tune with our own nonverbal communication, and the more we are aware of others’ nonverbal communication, the more efficient we will be at communicating our points and understanding others. This is a skill that we can work on and get better at as time goes by. So why not try to become aware of how you are communicating and how you read others in your next lesson? The better we become at this, the better communicators we will be—and that’s good for every instructor and trainer.