Giving constructive feedback to employees is important, whether that input comes directly from you or from one of your managers. Using positive, open and supportive feedback establishes trust, says Emma Seppala, the science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
The question isn’t whether feedback is essential or not, it's how to deliver it. While it’s important to focus on what is said—like giving more praise than criticism and listening more than talking—what we don’t say through nonverbal communication is just as critical.
“Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly reading each others’ facial expressions and body language,” Seppala says. The following nonverbal cues are the one’s she says we should pay the most attention to.
Facial expression: Smiling is so important to social interactions that we can discern whether someone is smiling even if we can’t see them, Seppala says. Your smile is important when delivering feedback. An appropriate smile projects warmth and goodwill.
Eye contact: Eye contact is the crucial first step for resonance, a term psychologists use to describe a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. It’s also important for creating a feeling of connection, Seppala says. Make and maintain eye contact when you’re giving someone feedback.
Voice: The tone of your voice, more than the words you use, give away how you feel. When providing feedback, use a firm voice to project confidence and trust.
Posture: When providing feedback, use a nondominant stance—your role is already powerful. Having your chest open, arms uncrossed, making sure to keep nodding, smiling and vocalizing will help. The best way for the other party to hear you is if you are not domineering, Seppala says.
Breath: Before a meeting with someone where you will be giving negative feedback, take deep, calming breaths. When you exhale, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, Seppala says, so focus on breathing out longer than you breathe in. Doing this for a couple of minutes before a meeting will help calm your nerves, which will put the person you are talking with at greater ease.
Attention: Given your busy schedule and demands on your time, your mind may not be fully present when you are meeting with someone. Take a moment to block out all of the distractions that may be pulling at you to be attentive during feedback conversations so you can listen and respond skillfully.
Despite all of this advice, Seppala says, it’s critical to be authentic or your efforts will backfire.