Five Ways to Become a Workplace “Yoda”

These five steps can help you give better feedback — and help make it stick

When it comes to feedback, employees and managers often approach it the same way: avoidance.

Often, employees dread feedback because they automatically think it will be negative. When someone hears, “your boss wants to talk to you,” they fear they will receive criticism or be reprimanded. On the manager side, giving feedback can be awkward and uncomfortable. It’s often easier to simply avoid it entirely or wait until mandatory once-a-year reviews.

But, those managers are missing out on an incredible coaching tool. If you have ever watched the Star Wars films, you’ll notice that Luke is always eager to learn from master Jedi Yoda. Yoda’s coaching encourages Luke to look forward, not back. It’s advice that Luke knows will help him become a Jedi master.

Constructive, regular feedback can help build trust between managers and employees and help your team members — and your business — grow. As leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith says, when you deliver effectively, constructive feedback, you help employees be right tomorrow, as opposed to proving they were wrong yesterday.

If you want to be a Jedi master or just a better manager to your staff, start with these five steps to giving effective feedback.

1. It’s really feedforward, not feedback.

Feedback focuses on the past. Feedforward focuses on the future. Feedback is necessary to provide context and identify behaviours that need improvement, so don’t leave it completely out, but you should spend the bulk of your session discussing actionable steps the employee can take to move forward and improve results. Focusing on the future leads to a much more positive conversation and helps people feel empowered.

2. Balance the positive with the negative.

When they hear “feedback,” most employees assume it will be negative. This puts them in a defensive position and closes them off to information that is crucial to their growth. Be intentional about giving positive feedback. Research shows the most effective ratio is three to five positive statements for every negative one. This may seem imbalanced, but positivity is key to employee motivation and improvement.

If you are managing a culturally diverse or global team, be aware of how your team’s culture affects how they receive positive or negative criticism. For example, public recognition of an individual may not be well received in Japan, because of the culture’s emphasis on the group rather than the individual.

3. Use straight talk.

“Straight talk” refers to a style of communication that is accurate, respectful and consistent. This is the perfect recipe for effective feedback. Let’s look at each ingredient. Accuracy means delivering facts and avoiding vague statements, or “hints” of what you wish an employee would do. If, for example, you’d like an employee to stop a pattern of tardiness, say, “You have been late three times in the last two weeks,” not, “you’ve been late a bunch of times.” Being respectful refers to a tone of voice, word choice and body language that conveys respect. Keep in mind that the specifics of this varies from culture to culture. Finally, consistency. Your behaviour should be dependable and predictable. Always say what needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it. Never complain about an employee to one of their peers — not only does this guarantee the intended audience may never hear the feedback, it also results in loss of respect for you as a manager.

4. Prepare and Practice.

Have specific feedback to give? Practice — and preparation — makes perfect. Think in advance about what you want to say, the words you are going to use, your tone of voice and your emotional state going into the conversation. And, think about how they may respond. Practice with someone and get feedback of your own. Don’t wing it, especially when it’s an important conversation that can have a potential negative impact on a relationship or project.

5. Frequency is more important than duration.

Feedback — and feedforward — should be an ongoing conversation, a “regular reality check.” No employee likes to get constructive criticism they could have acted on months ago. Even high performers need frequent check-ins to feel assured that they are on the right track and growing. If you’re a manager working with a global team, this is especially crucial. If this feels excessive, focus on frequency and not duration — a ten-minute check-in once a week is more effective than an hour-long monthly conversation. Don’t think of frequent feedback as micro-managing, think of it as opportunities to say, “How can I support you?”

Follow these steps to make effective feedback conversations a habit. This will turn this type of conversation into muscle memory, making giving constructive feedback easier. In turn, your employees won’t dread feedback conversations — they will know your intention is to help them shine and do their best work.