Sailors, Boats, Teamwork, and a Charity Regatta: A Body Language Field Observation

Sailors, Boats, Teamwork, and a Charity Regatta: A Body Language Field Observation

by Barbara Chatzkel

People believe that they can effectively interpret body language signals only when in close proximity to the other person. They tend to ignore the very visible body language that individuals can project from a distance.

To see if I could “read” body language from a distance, I did some field observations the weekend of June 12-14, 2015 in Rochester, New York. As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Hospice Regatta Alliance, I helped organize and run the 2015 National Championship in conjunction with the Rochester Yacht Club. The championship, raced by the winners of the 2014 local regattas, and raised more than $1.3 million over the year, all going directly to support nonprofit hospices in the United States and Canada.

You don’t have to be a sailor to read and understand the body language of the competitors in these photographs.

NHRA - 1Photo 1: You can’t see their full faces and they are wearing sun glasses, but it is very clear that these folks are all concentrating on rounding the mark (the green tetrahedron) as closely and as quickly as possible. They are all leaning toward the mark (the most important “person” in this interaction), are somewhat tense (shoulder positions) and ready to spring into action (arms pushing down on the boat both to steady themselves and to allow them to act quickly).


NHRA - 2Photo 2: This photo was taken just moments after the first one. The boat has rounded the mark, completing an important maneuver in the race. While the team members are still concentrating on sailing as quickly and as well as possible, their body language signals are very different: shoulders relaxed, everyone performing their tasks but in a calmer state.


NHRA - 3Photo 3: You don’t know the full story, but you can tell a lot about the man’s emotions. He is the skipper for his crew and the young man is his 11-year-old son who is sailing in his first championship. The man’s authentic smile (crinkles at the eyes and mouth) and embrace of his son are two strong signals broadcasting his joy at being at the event with his son and his pride that his son is sharing the experience.


NHRA - 4Photo 4: Sailboat races traditionally include team photos of the skipper and crew. In this photograph, it is easy to see the closeness of the team as well as the four completely authentic smiles. There is no doubt that this team is happy to be at the championship.


NHRA - 5Photo 5: This team is also happy to be at the event, but their demeanor is much more formal than the group above. But behind each of their “solemn” smiles is the hint of an authentic smile that peaks through and broadcasts their happiness and enjoyment.

What do you notice about the relative placement of the team members in the two photographs? What additional information does that add to the message the teams are broadcasting?


Many more examples of body language played out over the three days of sailing and socializing. During meals, everywhere you turned you saw teams engaged in conversations ranging from jokes to serious topics of discussion. During a protest of an action taken during one of the races, the body language of the two teams working through the protest was very different – defensive, confrontational, tense. However once the protest was concluded, everyone’s body language relaxed and the enjoyment level returned to very high.

NHRA - 6Photo 6: Blue skies, a good breeze, and congenial crews all working in unison to raise money for hospice care made for a great cause and a good time.

During the next month, conduct your own field observations to see how much body language you can interpret at a distance.

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Barbara Chatzkel’s ability to provide a vibrant and behavior-changing book extends Chatzkelacross industry segments – everyone uses business body language. Her coaching and consulting expertise on business body language grew from conducting union negotiations, managing difficult personnel situations, managing at multiple levels, and extensive business coaching experience. Her new book,
Business Body Language: Your Visual Business Card, will be available in print in early 2016. Visit her website today for further information.

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