When giving critical feedback, focus on your nonverbal cues
by Emma Seppala
January 23, 2017 | 12:43 pm| | | Start Conversation
Giving feedback may be one of the most difficult challenges a manager faces. On the one hand, you must be honest; on the other hand, you don’t want to alienate your employee. You tread a fine line between maintaining cordiality and successfully getting your point across.
A positive workplace culture is essential for employee engagement and productivity. Empathy at work creates psychological safety, which improves learning and performance outcomes. More importantly, feeling safe in the workplace helps encourage the spirit of experimentation that’s so critical for innovation.
Despite this need for a positive workplace culture, there is no doubt that giving critical feedback is essential. What we say is important, but our nonverbal communication is just as important as the words we use.
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly reading each others’ facial expressions and body language. Here are the nonverbal cues to which we pay the most attention:
— FACIAL EXPRESSION: We deduce how someone is helping from their facial expression. Smile appropriately to project warmth and good will.
— EYE CONTACT: Eye contact is important for creating a feeling of connection. Make and maintain eye contact when you’re giving someone feedback.
— VOICE: The tone of our voice, more than the words themselves, can give away how we feel. In fact, new research shows that we can often predict someone’s emotions from their voice.
— POSTURE: The way a person is sitting slumped or sitting tall, arms open or crossed — transmits a message. Make sure you take on a nondominant stance because your role is already powerful.
— BREATH: Before the conversation, try to take some deep, calming breaths. Doing this for a couple of minutes before a meeting will help you start from a place of calm, which will help the other person feel more at ease.
— ATTENTION: Given our busy schedules and the messages that are popping onto our screens throughout the day, we sometimes are not present with the people in front of us. And the people you are talking to can tell. Because you are not fully present, you are less likely to hear them and respond to them skillfully, let alone understand where they are coming from.
In addition to all of this, it’s also critical that you be authentic, or your efforts will backfire.
Rather than seeing the feedback situation as “work” or something you need just to get through, see the conversation as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain. We often don’t know what is causing unwanted on-the-job behavior like missed deadlines or short tempers.
If you’re able to keep in mind that there’s a whole dimension to your employees that you don’t know about, it will be easier to be empathic when you’re giving feedback.
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