In writing this post, I realize that my association with feedback is mostly bad. And I don’t enjoy giving it because it often reflects more about what I value than helping someone else improve.
In, “Leadership coaching with feedforward,” Dr. Marshall Goldsmith articulates how feedback makes most of us a bit uncomfortable and most often puts us in a defensive posture, as opposed to being open to hearing what the other person is sharing with us.
Ideally, feedback reflects an observation of a behavior, articulates the impact of that behavior, and makes a suggestion for the future. More often, it is laden with an emotional energy that you can’t. quite. put. your. finger. on. It feels icky and can be inconsistent. I once received a performance review that said, “You ask lots of great questions.” And, “You need to ask more questions.” [Insert confused face here.]
According to Goldsmith, we also have some self-preservation techniques that keep us feeling safe: we convince our self the critic is confused, misinformed, or ignorant. If we allow the criticism to sink in, we might go into denial, or even grief and shame. It’s icky stuff.
When we use feedback, we’re more likely to not be really listening, both for the giver and the receiver.
Feedforward is another great option that looks to the future for solutions.
It makes it more likely the message will be shared in a generous way and will be acted upon. Feedforward is a process we can use in our charities to share suggestions for the future — as a way to innovate — and to address a misalignment of expectations. Because it involves activities that haven’t happened yet, the receiver of the feedforward is much less likely to get defensive.
Feedback is usually directed down the organization. Feedforward is a great way to offer suggestions across all levels, simultaneously.
Here’s an easy way to practice feedforward:
- Pick one behavior you’d like to change and would make a positive difference for your role.
- Describe the behavior to a colleague, manager, or direct report. Ask for feedforward: two suggestions that would help you achieve positive change in future activities. (There’s no mention of the past, only ideas for the future are allowed.)
- Listen — truly listen — without judgment. The person receiving the feedforward is not allowed to comment on the suggestions; you may not critique; or even make positive judgmental statements, like “Great idea!”
- Say, “Thank you.” and then switch roles.
Feedforward is also a great way to practice listening, which will ultimately strengthen your relationships in powerful ways. (Do this process often enough and you can even skip annual performance reviews!)