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Your Words Are “Of course”; Your Eyes Are “Are you seriously telling me that right now?”

Your Words Are “Of course”; Your Eyes Are “Are you seriously telling me that right now?”

EACE Blog contribution by Kelly Scott, Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University

At the end of my first co-op position, I sat down with my manager to go over my evaluation before I submitted it to my co-op advisor to translate it to a grade. This position – working in sales and events for a radio station – was my first professional experience. My review was outstanding, replete with fours (you were scaled one through four on different professional competencies, four being the best), except for a single, pesky three in professional communication with the following comment:  “Your written and verbal communication is excellent; your body language doesn’t always match what you’re saying.”

Basically, when given a task I wasn’t thrilled about or constructive feedback on my work, my verbal response was positive but my body language conveyed otherwise. Oops- too bad as 60-80% of communication is through body language/tone. Taking constructive feedback gracefully is incredibly important to career advancement and if you’re like me, you may not realize that subtle body positions and tone can affect how your supervisor thinks you’re taking the feedback. I’ve since learned this valuable lesson and make sure my words and eyes convey how receptive I am to feedback, and want to help all of you avoid any getting anything other than a perfect score when it comes to your “professional communication.”  Next time you’re meeting with your supervisor or colleagues to discuss you or your work, keep these things in mind.

Be receptive, not defensive. There have been multiple times when I’ve been given feedback that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but it always had some grain of truth to it- whether I liked it or not. Remember, feedback isn’t meant as a slight; rather, it’s is necessary for professional growth, so try to take it as a sign that your supervisor wants to help you improve and succeed.  Because feedback, and your receptiveness to it, is so important for your professional appearance, relationships, and growth, make sure to curb any defensive tendencies, and in that regard, watch your tone.  Keep it even, not too loud (sounds aggressive), not to soft (sounds weak) and stay away from any sarcasm or shortness.

Don’t interrupt. Interrupting is rude, and also confirms that you’re not necessarily listening, and instead thinking of responses while your supervisor is speaking. You can’t think of comebacks and listen simultaneously. If you go on the defensive, the person will think you don’t know how to take feedback well and may not provide it in the future, or worse, wait to dump it all on you at a yearly review (bad news). Interrupting is also very reactionary and unprofessional. Try and take in all of the information and reflect on it, even if just for a couple seconds, and then form an appropriate response.

Ask clarifying questions. I find this to be the most helpful strategy to keep me off the defense. Starting sentences in a way that shows you’re simply trying to clarify the message, as opposed to being defensive, can allow the conversation to stay emotionally neutral and objective.  For example, “Could you explain further what you mean when you say I’m ‘a little disorganized?’ I want to make sure I understand completely so I can correct the behavior in the future.” Another example would be “Could you clarify what you mean when you say….” This often opens up a joint discussion on how to combat the issue in the future.

If you’re given feedback you don’t agree with, it’s important to explain that you appreciate the feedback, ask a clarifying question if necessary, and then politely and professionally discuss why don’t necessarily agree. It may be that your supervisor didn’t understand where you were coming from, or that you misunderstood something. Communication is king.

Mind your body language- this includes facial expressions. How could you forget USA Olympic USA Olympic Gymnast McKayla MaroneyGymnast McKayla Maroney’s face after winning the silver medal #notimpressed. Your face will give it all away if you’re not careful. First, try not to let your emotions get the best of you: maintain eye contact, listen objectively, and don’t take statements as slights. Second, “feel” your face: are you clenching your jaw? Are you squinting? Is your mouth in a McKayla like purse? Correct the problem and keep your face soft. Nod and lean forward to show understanding and keep your body open. Don’t cross your arms or look around the room during the conversation.

Constructive feedback can be hard to swallow, even if it’s coming from a good place, but it’s necessary for professional growth and development. Keep these strategies in mind and hopefully you can keep your McKayla face at bay and move quickly up the ladder.

Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott

Kelly is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development and “blog master” for the Northeastern University Career Development blog, The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand and enjoys reading and writing about workplace culture. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Contact her via Twitter @kellydscott4 or LinkedIn

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