The Partner

3 body-language tricks for giving employees feedback

Many professionals struggle with receiving feedback, and the candidates vying to win the job of becoming turnaround king Marcus Lemonis' business partner on CNBC's "The Partner" are no different.

On the latest episode, when faced with a team challenge — coaching kids' basketball squads at the YMCA — some candidates showed their ability to work together in an unfamiliar setting, while others were less engaged.

Erin Cobb, in particular, seemed disconnected from the kids and the game, and became agitated and defensive when Lemonis questioned his performance.

"In the last 10 minutes you have totally changed your demeanor," said Lemonis. "You got defensive, you got annoyed, your face changed, your eyes changed, your body language changed."

Most professionals will have to both deliver and receive challenging feedback at points throughout their career, and the physical response can be difficult to control.

Marcus Lemonis during the season premiere of CNBC's "The Partner."
Tim Hiatt | CNBC
Marcus Lemonis during the season premiere of CNBC's "The Partner."

"We react to the world around us in real time," says Joe Navarro, nonverbal communication specialist and the author of "What Every Body Is Saying."

"The minute we begin to sense that something is going to hurt us, someone is going to punish us, something untoward is happening or something is being said — we begin to tighten down."

Navarro says that while there's little that can be done to stem the tide of those responses ("humans are not faucets, you can't just turn it off"), there are steps managers can take to ensure that an employee's emotional response to feedback doesn't overpower the message they're receiving.

1. After delivering criticism, angle your body away from the employee

"Physically, don't play the role of drill sergeant," says Navarro.

Once you've delivered criticism, he says, it's important to recognize that the other person will likely want to express frustration and that you have an obligation to hear what they need to say.

Though it may feel natural to be seated across from the other person, "physically, you want to get away from being directly in front of that person and angle off to the side, and actually make less eye contact."

2. Tilt your head to portray empathy and passive listening

After you've communicated your message, Navarro says, make it clear you're transitioning into the role of listener.

"Tilt your head to the side so that you are passively listening, so you no longer have an agenda."

This will help indicate that though you've delivered a message that may have been difficult to hear, you have empathy for the response.

"It doesn't mean you fix things," says Navarro. "It means at this emotional moment you're giving them the chance to deal with reality at an emotional level."

3. Adopt an open posture to show you're willing to continue the conversation

Maintaining the open, receptive posture you adopt after delivering feedback is crucial to moving forward quickly and making progress.

"You do yourself a disservice if you don't give people the opportunity to come back and talk about it," says Navarro. "Sometimes the best policy is to make your declarative statements, give the person the opportunity to collect themselves, usually after about an hour, so that then they can come back and say whatever they need to say."

Ultimately, says Navarro, it's important for those delivering and receiving feedback to remember that serious criticism, delivered openly, is intended to drive a positive outcome and is far more constructive than talking about an employee.

"These kinds of criticisms are intended for our betterment. They're not intended to harm us," says Navarro. "It's to our benefit to hear these things."

Watch CNBC's "The Partner," Tuesday 10 PM Eastern.

Video by Brandon Ancil and Mary Stevens