Why your feedback may be failing

by HRD26 Jan 2017
Giving negative feedback can be an awkward task for any leader but it’s essential for the development of your employee – so how do you get the balance between helpful and hypercritical?

“On the one hand, you have to be honest; on the other hand, you don’t want to alienate your employee,” writes psychology Emma Seppala, in the Harvard Buisness Review. “You tread a fine line between maintaining cordiality and successfully getting your point across.

Seppala is the science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research – she says in situation where leaders are being critical, nonverbal communication becomes key.

“Whether we realise it or not, we are constantly reading each others’ facial expressions and body language,” she writes, before pointing to six nonverbal cues leaders should pay particular attention to.

Facial expression
Your smile will go a long way in creating a rapport with your subordinate despite the negative feedback. A person’s smile activates a smile on your own face in the same way that people mimic each other’s frowns, she said. “Smile appropriately to project warmth and goodwill,” she added.

Eye contact
Maintaining eye contact while delivering feedback is important to create a feeling of connection, she said, adding that it will make it easier for both parties to gauge each other’s emotions.

Voice
Pay close attention to the tone of your voice when giving feedback, she said, as that can give away your emotions more than the words you use. 

Posture
Keep your arms uncrossed and your chest open to help put your subordinate at ease. “Make sure you take on a nondominant stance; after all, your role is already powerful. The best way for the other party to hear you is if you are not domineering,” she said.

Breath
Take deep breaths before you start the conversation to ease your own anxiety and to help you start the meeting from a “place of calm”, said Seppala. Your calmness will also help the other party feel at ease.

Attention
Be fully present when you’re providing critical feedback, she said. People can easily tell when your mind starts to wander, so make a conscious effort to listen to what they are saying.

“Despite all this advice, it’s critical that you be authentic, or your efforts will backfire,” she said.

“Rather than seeing the feedback situation as ‘work’ or something you need to just get through, see the conversation as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain,” she added. 

Related stories:

More men cry after appraisals than women 

How to give better feedback 

How to motivate employees to work faster 

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