Body Language While Giving Constructive Feedback to Your Team
As a manager, giving your subordinates honest and constructive feedback can feel like a difficult job. On one hand, you do not want to come across as criticizing, and on the other hand, you want them to know the areas where they can improve. Research has shown that if your body language communicates discomfort, the person whom you are giving feedback to will feel uncomfortable listening to you, and will not be able to take the feedback well (Cherulnik et al., 2001; Goman, 2011; Hatfield et al., 1994; Sy et al., 2005). Therefore, you want to make sure that you adopt non-threatening and relaxed body language while providing your subordinates with feedback on how they can improve.
- At the same time, make sure that you take occasional breaks while maintaining eye contact with your subordinate (Hardavella et al., 2017). While it is good practice to look them in the eye while speaking to uphold mutual trust and connection, doing so for more than a few seconds at a time may put your subordinate on the spot, intensifying any mild discomfort that they might already be experiencing from being at the receiving end of feedback (Sim et al., 2011).
- When it comes to aggressive body language, some big no-no’s are placing your hands on your hips (Pease, 1981), and frowning (Sim et al., 2011) while talking to your subordinate.
- Adopt open and empathetic body language that exudes positivity by gesturing with open palms, instead of defensively keeping your fists clenched and tucked away beyond sight, or crossing your arms (Pease, 1981; Sim et al., 2011). Since open gestures have been found to communicate honesty, you can use them to support your verbal assurance that you sincerely wish that the feedback helps the subordinate to improve and grow, and that you do not mean it as criticism.
- Slightly leaning towards your subordinate and nodding and tilting your head when they speak does wonders in helping them relax, as it shows that you are interested in listening to what they have to say in response to your feedback (Borg, 2009; Pease, 1981). It works so well because oftentimes, subordinates feel like you as a manager might not be concerned enough to let them explain their side, and that you might just dismiss them after giving them the ‘negative feedback’.
- Try not to fidget or pace the room while discussing the feedback with your subordinate, as such unnecessary movements only contribute to the tense atmosphere that is always on the verge of breaking out in such a situation (Sim et al., 2011).
- Some other small changes that you can make in your body language to appear more relaxed include slightly opening your mouth when you realize that your lips are tightly pursed together (Borg, 2009). Taking long, deep breaths helps you put yourself and your subordinate both at ease, because it makes it less likely that you’ll sigh out loud (which might just be because you’re charged up due to the anxiety about giving feedback, but which might be wrongly interpreted by the subordinate as a sign of frustration) (Hardavella et al., 2017). These might seem trivial changes, but they go a long way in preventing misunderstandings between you and your subordinates.
Thus, while giving feedback to your team about how they can do better, it is very important that you supplement your assertive and empathetic verbal communication with the matching non-verbals, so that you can save yourself and your subordinates undue stress and anxiety about giving and receiving feedback, respectively.