Do you know how your nonverbal signals are affecting your employees? It might not sound important, but the way you use body language can have a big impact on how forthcoming they are.

"Leaders send 'I'm the boss' signals without realizing it--and those signals prevent others from coming to them with new ideas," James Detert, a professor of management at Cornell University, and Ethan Burris, a professor of management at the University of Texas, write in Harvard Business Review.

Be conscious of how your natural poses might be intimidating employees. Even "small power cues send big messages," the authors say. Once you're aware of how you hold yourself, you can make adjustments. Below, find out Detert and Burris's suggestions for improving your nonverbals.

Make yourself more approachable

Again, you must pay attention to how you communicate with your body and even your physical positioning so you can start to make it less aggressive and less dominant. "Keeping your arms at your side (rather than crossing them in front of you), lowering your voice, dressing less formally, and even smiling can make people more likely to share their thoughts with you," Detert and Burris write. "So can behavioral cues, such as sitting at the same tables as everyone else at lunch and not being the first to articulate a point of view at meetings."

Make your office inviting

Your physical environment also can send a strong nonverbal signal to others. Detert and Burris talk about one manager they interviewed whose office was adorned with dark walls and furniture. It was a dreary setting that served to intimidate her employees, she found, and decided to change things up. "She quickly changed the paint color and bought a small round table. She soon had more employees coming to her office for quick check-ins and to share ideas," they write.

Leave the office

Sometimes it may be necessary to change venues to get people to open up. Leaving the office with employees and spending time at a cafe, bar, or park can help form a bond of trust and relax them. A location outside of the workplace also tends to make the power dynamic fade, Detert and Burris write, which will help make employees more "inclined to engage in honest conversation."

Published on: Dec 11, 2015