How to give feedback like a boss to your boss.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the feedback we get from our boss. But what happens when our boss wants to get feedback from us? It’s a positive sign when managers actively seek feedback about themselves from their team, but it also raises the stakes: How much should we share? How can we strike the right balance between candor and caution? And does our boss really want to hear those hard truths?
If your boss asks you for feedback, here are some ways to craft a helpful response that won’t hurt your standing or sanity.
Prepare before you share
While it’s flattering to be asked for your opinion, be sure to take the time to reflect on what you’ll say, when you’ll say it, and how you’ll support it. Come with specifics to make your feedback more constructive and credible. And while you’re at it, go ahead and ask your boss about their feedback preferences. “I’m happy to share some thoughts with you. Would you rather this feedback be delivered face to face or in writing?”
Be honest and specific
Candor is kind when it’s shared with care. Focus on your boss’s behaviors, actions, and specific situations rather than your own personal judgments. For example, instead of telling your boss that she’s a bad listener, you could say, “I’ve noticed that during our stand ups, we don’t always get to hear from everybody.” Or instead of labeling your boss as scattered or unfocused, frame it more broadly: “I’ve noticed that you jump from idea to idea in our brainstorming sessions.” Be honest, but not brutally honest. After all, this person is still your boss.
Map it out
Find an appropriate time and place where both you and your boss can comfortably discuss your feedback. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t talk about sensitive issues in front of other team members or share feedback when your boss is stressed or pressured. As a matter of good form, ask your boss permission to share feedback, even when there’s already an invitation on the table. “You asked me to offer my take on how you’re doing. Would you like to find a time to talk about that?”
Don’t play boss!
In these conversations, it’s tempting to share all the things you’d do better or different if you were in the driver’s seat. Better to stick to observations, not recommendations. We don’t always know what our boss is up against or realize the demands they’re facing. This is an opportunity to be helpful, not haughty.
If you’ve got a boss who asks you for feedback, consider yourself fortunate. And if you follow these four tips, you’ll not only look good, but you’ll help your boss do better. When feedback goes two ways, both sides win.
Stop giving feedback that you wouldn’t want yourself.
You’ve heard of the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. But when it comes to giving feedback, we need to follow the Silver Rule: Don’t treat others the way you would not want them to treat you.
Or, to put it more bluntly: If you don’t like the way people give you feedback, don’t give them feedback that way.
There’s lots of ways feedback can go wrong: Poor intentions. Bad delivery. Insufficient data. No matter the cause, the result is always the same: Blame and shame. Denying and defying. The feedback of fear, not joy. And that sort of feedback never ends well.
Here’s a few ways I try to follow the Silver Rule of giving feedback:
People can sniff out feedback that’s insincere, indirect or just plain insulting. Disguising feedback doesn’t soften the blow. It leads to more discomfort. If you want to deliver feedback that’s kind, be candid and caring.
Don’t hold back
Unlike wine or cheese or your favorite jeans, feedback does not get better with age. Withholding feedback raises the stakes, the tension and the possibility that neither you nor the other person will actually remember what happened. When it comes to feedback, the longer the wait, the shorter the memory.
Giving too much feedback at once leads to confusion, frustration and poor results. It’s like asking someone to drink from a firehose. If you want others to actually do something with your feedback, size it and stage it in a way they can act on it.
So the next time you’re about to give someone feedback, think about the Silver Rule. And if you do that, you might just give others the kind of feedback they actually want to receive.
How to become more thankful for the feedback in our lives.
With feedback, there seems to be an expectation of thanks. We’re told over and over that feedback is a gift – how could we not be thankful? But feedback doesn’t always feel like a gift. And depending on how feedback is shared, we might not be feeling very thankful after receiving it. When others approach us with feedback, we may even shake our heads and think to ourselves, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I’ve been thinking about thanks this week for all the obvious reasons. Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, of course – but not just for the blessings in our lives. It’s an opportunity to express thanks for the messiness of life – the near misses, total fails and moments we wish we could take back. At first, these occasions don’t seem like cause for applause. Upon further reflection, they have the potential to define and refine us. Which is why I’m thankful for feedback, especially when it goes down hard. Without it, life’s messes would stay messy.
How can we turn feedback into something that sparks joy, energy, and yes, even gratitude? With math, of course!
An equation for being thankful
Admittedly, I’m not a math person. Some kids might get a 70 on their geometry test and shamefully throw it in the trash. Me? I’d proudly put it on the fridge. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate the order and structure that math brings to our lives, and feedback is no exception. It provides an elegant formula for receiving feedback fearlessly, with a large helping of gratitude.
“Feedback math” is actually pretty simple, even for a math-challenged person like me. It follows a three-step process: Addition. Subtraction. Multiplication. When we think about feedback in math terms, we can solve for the problem of gratitude.
The first step is to look at the sum total of feedback. How did it add to our understanding of who we are and what we do? Has it increased our capacity to do better work and become a better person? With addition, we look at the whole of feedback, not just at its parts. Somewhere in that message, there’s a signal that can help us do more, not less. Look for it.
This step is a bit harder because it forces us to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: What would I be missing without feedback? How would that decrease my professional and personal value? Subtraction isn’t easy, since feedback has a way of naturally diminishing us. After getting criticized or called out, we may already feel like a minus. But as the old saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. By thinking prospectively about what our lives might have looked like without feedback, we position ourselves to experience feedback with more grace and gratitude.
In the final step, we compound feedback by multiplying its value. To do that, we turn to the future and ask growth questions: As a result of this feedback, how can I exponentially increase my impact at work or at home? Who or what will I make better? This is the power of feedforward, which unlocks future potential and possibilities. With multiplication, we focus on how to do better for ourselves and make things better for others. We scale our ability to create positive and lasting change.
As I’ve said more than a few times from the stage: We can’t go back and change the past, but we can start right where we are and fix the future.
So yes, we can and should be thankful for feedback, even if we don’t love the way it lands.
It’s just math.
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who are celebrating it. I hope that you experience feedback with less fear, more joy, and much thanks.
The questions we ask determine the feedback we receive.
Whether we’re searching for more clarity, context, coaching or correction in our work, feedback can help us improve. But how we ask for feedback determines the kind of help we receive. To get the fearless feedback that brings much-needed results, we need to align our ask — to choose the right question for the right goal.
Some questions derail feedback from the start. They limit the flow of information, point the conversation in the wrong direction, or come disguised as statements. They simply don’t do the job of getting the feedback we need.
Is there a better way to ask for feedback? Funny you should ask!
These questions, compiled by Steven Rogelberg and colleagues, provide a broad framework for generating feedback insights based on specific needs. (Steven will be joining me on an upcoming episode of I Wish They Knew, so stay tuned for more ways to improve your 1:1 conversations with others.)
Ask these questions to gather solutions or express your need for additional resources, input, or support.
- I’m struggling with this problem. Can you help me solve it?
- Who else do you recommend I speak to about this? Where can I turn for additional support?
- Can you suggest alternatives to my current approach? What am I missing here?
Ask these questions to better understand how you should spend your time and order your priorities.
- Given what is on my plate, what should I be prioritizing right now, and can you help me understand why?
- As you review my workload, am I taking on the right projects and tasks?
- Am I on track for meeting my goals and your expectations from your perspective? Is any refocusing necessary?
- Is there any context I might be missing about the projects I am working on?
Developing your career
Ask these questions to identify growth areas and how to advance your knowledge and skills.
- Which areas of my work could benefit from additional development?
- What should I target as my next career move, and why do you recommend that position?
- How can my skills best support our team and organization right now?
- How can we make sure that my full potential is achieved?
By aligning our ask, we can get higher-quality feedback that helps us raise our awareness, boost our performance and expand our professional path. Not only will we help others deliver feedback that’s more focused and useful, but we might just be surprised by the answers they provide.
Feedback tells a story, but it’s the story we tell ourselves that matters more.
Getting negative feedback, especially from those we respect and trust, can quickly become an emotional train wreck that leaves us feeling hurt, helpless, and even a little bit hopeless. And when critical feedback is repeated over time, researchers have found that it can diminish our productivity, motivation and even our prospects for employment.
The good news? We can flip the frame on negative feedback by changing the story. While we can’t control the plot, we can always write the ending.
The stories we tell
Whether negative feedback causes us to become depleted or determined may have to do with something psychologists call explanatory style — the way we explain the things that happen to us. It’s essentially the story that we tell ourselves after an experience or encounter with others.
Explanatory style takes two forms: optimistic and pessimistic. Pessimists blame failure on themselves and attribute success to external causes. Optimists do the opposite: They attribute failure to circumstances beyond their control and success to their own efforts.
People with a pessimistic explanatory style receive negative feedback and believe that their shortcomings are simply part of who they are, while individuals with an optimistic explanatory style think about criticism in terms of growth and opportunity.
For example, after receiving negative feedback about a sales presentation, the pessimist takes a defeatist attitude (“I’m terrible at explaining products and this will never change”), while the optimist adopts a developmental approach (“Here’s how I’ll tweak my sales pitch to get better results”).
Flip the frame
How can we develop an a more optimistic outlook on negative feedback? By determining whether the negative feedback is personal, pervasive and permanent.
First, ask yourself if the negative feedback is personal. Do you bear responsibility for what’s happening? Or it is beyond your control?
Pessimists treat failure as stable. They assume it’s a function of their own limitations and expect it to happen again. They regard negative feedback as a natural consequence of their character. Optimists think of failure as fluid — it’s more likely the result of external conditions, not internal characteristics. For them, getting negative feedback may have more to do with a set of circumstances than their personal traits.
Next, ask yourself if the negative feedback is pervasive. Is this action affecting other aspects of your life? Or is it more localized?
Pessimists tend to believe that negative events are cumulative and spill into other areas. They’re more likely to think of negative feedback as a feature, not a bug. Optimists believe that failures are isolated, not inevitable. They’re more likely to see negative feedback as a bump, not a byway.
Finally, ask yourself if the negative feedback is permanent. Are the causes or effects here to stay? Or will they only last temporarily?
Pessimists tend to adopt a fixed, permanent view and believe that bad outcomes will endure indefinitely. With negative feedback, they assume there’s no end in sight. Optimists take a more fluid, temporary view of setbacks and believe they can become starting points for growth. For them, negative feedback is a catalyst, not a crucible.
A more positive perspective
In a perfect world, we’d always choose the more optimistic explanatory style and think of tough feedback as something that’s only temporary, limited in its scope and within our ability to change. Then again, critical feedback has a way of casting doom and gloom. So what can we do to flip the frame?
Here are a few tiny adjustments that can help you change how you receive and respond to criticism:
- Impose a cool-down period: Let negative feedback sit for a day or so before responding. When the initial sting of criticism wears off, you’ll be in much better position to evaluate the message with greater calm and clarity.
- Widen the feedback loop: Ask a trusted colleague, family member or friend to help interpret the feedback. Getting an outsider’s perspective can provide much-needed distance and detail, helping you separate facts from feelings and find the signal in the noise.
- Revisit the issue with the giver: While we’d like nothing more than to bury bad news in the past, it’s more constructive to engage in future dialogue with the person who gave it. Let him or her know you’ve thought about the feedback and want to craft a plan of improvement. If you disagree with premise of the feedback, ask for an opportunity to present your side of the story.
Every feedback story deserves a happy ending. By understanding how the mind processes feedback and then consciously shifting our view, we can turn negative feedback into positive results that lead to real and lasting improvement.
Asking the right question can improve the feedback you get.
At its core, feedback is designed to help us do better. But what if we don’t feel better off after getting it? There can be many reasons why feedback falls flat — poor timing, sloppy form, hazy intent, to name just a few. But over the years, I’ve noticed that a fatal flaw in many feedback conversations isn’t the response.
It’s the question.
The way we phrase our questions can greatly influence the quality and usefulness of the feedback we receive. If we don’t align our ask, there’s a good chance any feedback we get will miss its mark. The good news is that we can transform our questions with just a few tweaks in our approach. Here are some of my favorite “questionable questions” – and ways we can make them better.
“Yes or no” questions
Close-ended questions that can be answered in just one word often create a feedback stranglehold. Not only do they limit the kind of information we can receive, but they cut off the possibility for depth and dialogue. True, some feedback requests don’t need more than a simple response. But for any sort of evaluative or developmental feedback that demands context and nuance, “yes or no” questions rarely provide us with the insights we need.
Here are useful alternatives to “yes and no” questions:
- How did my presentation sound to you?
- What are your thoughts on my proposal?
- How did I come across to you during our meeting today?
Each of these questions create more room and possibility for a two-way exchange where feedback moves freely.
“Backwards” questions are questions that focus on the past and often ask for explanations, justifications, or reasons for past events or decisions. When we ask for feedback using a backwards question, we point others towards a moment in time that can’t be changed or controlled — which all but guarantees that the feedback won’t be actionable.
Rather than ask why something occurred, frame your question with a forward-facing inquiry:
- What’s one thing I can do to improve my client interactions?
- Can you share ways you’ve managed to deal with difficult team members?
- Where could I learn more about this practice?
By shifting the focus from the past to the future and from blame to contribution, we can orient others to provide feedback that’s focused, relevant and within our ability to control.
Perhaps the most sneaky and stubborn all, “imposter” questions are more like statements in disguise. They can unintentionally bias or influence the responses we receive when seeking feedback. Their goal is affirmation, not information. And they rarely produce a substantive, honest response. “…Don’t you think?” is the surest way to get others not to think about ways to help us.
We can unmask these imposters by asking questions that are framed with curiosity, not certainty:
- Can you suggest ways I can strengthen this pitch?
- Where can I find additional support to help me resolve this issue?
- What do you see as my biggest growth opportunity right now?
We can’t expect others to guide us if we don’t provide them with clear directions. Asking for feedback is part art, part smarts. By asking the right questions in the right way, we’ll get the feedback we need to succeed.
Trust is easy to spend but hard to keep.
Do you trust your team? Better yet, does your team trust you?
The research case for trust is clear: Employees who are less trusted by their managers exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organization. Employees who do feel trusted are higher performers who go above and beyond role expectations. Plus, when employees feel their supervisors trust them to get key tasks done, they have greater confidence in the workplace and perform at a higher level.
In any given workplace, there are various degrees of trust, from the most essential (knowledge) to the most profound (safety). Trust is built from the ground up and reaches its pinnacle when we feel secure enough to just be ourselves.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize a not-so-tiny truth about trust:
You only get what you give.
If you want your employees (or your friends or family members, for that matter) to trust you, show that you trust them.
Easier said than done. But here are are a few ways you can forge high-trust relationships at work (and beyond) to create happier, healthier dynamics between you and others.
Trust, but verify
First, don’t assume that your employees have placed their trust in you. Learn to read their trust levels by understanding the risks and vulnerabilities they face. Take an inventory of the practices, policies, and controls found in your organization. When you look at policies from the perspective of the employee, are they designed to engage employees or to protect the organization from them? The picture may surprise you.
Give some ground
Earning trust is best achieved through a series of incremental steps, like adequately scoping assignments, granting resource authority, and showing a healthy tolerance for mistakes. Rather than taking harsh corrective action, treat employee mistakes as opportunities to facilitate learning. People won’t trust you if they can’t be themselves around you.
Proactively partner up
If you want people to trust you, it’s crucial to communicate openly and honestly with them. Managers are often reluctant to share information and explain their decisions for fear of premature leaks, second-guessing, or dissension. Being transparent signals that you trust people with the truth, even in difficult circumstances. Trust can’t live in the dark.
How leaders can build trust
Leaders get the trust they deserve. If they commit to trust-building behaviors, they’ll create high-trust environments. People will do better work and feel better about the work they do. By contrast, leaders who practice trust-busting behaviors will end up producing low-trust (or even zero-trust) cultures where people wither and withdraw. The list of trust-busting behavior is long and varied, so let’s focus on the trust-building behaviors that get the best results.
- Tell the truth
- Be honest when sharing information, even if it it’s to your disadvantage
- Use truthful nonverbal communication
- Talk to your team members in an honest, meaningful way
- Listen deeply for what’s being said (and what’s left unsaid)
- If you have important or relevant information, share it immediately with the team
- Have important conversations face-to-face
- Share non-work related stories, quips, videos, memes with coworkers to build a sense of comity and community
- Get together outside the office, if possible
- Take an interest in things that interest your coworkers
Trust is hard to earn and even harder to keep. But if we carefully consider how our actions (direct and unintentional) play into people’s decision to trust us, we’ll not only do a better job at reading the trust landscape, our work and relationships will be better off.
Don’t push for feedback – pull it out.
We all need feedback to learn and grow. But if we wait on others to get these valuable insights, we may end up waiting. And waiting. How can we get focused, frequent information that helps us improve — especially if others are reluctant to share feedback in a timely and effective way?
With the right amount of initiative and intention, we can “pull” feedback from others to get the right results. And while it’s not necessary to apply all of these guidelines at once, combining them will boost the value of your feedback request — not to mention the impact it can produce.
Make a specific ask
When asking for feedback, be specific about the type of information you’re seeking. For example, are you looking to validate your work? Gain support for a proposal? Find alternative solutions to a problem? Ask yourself: “What am I really after here?” Gaining this clarity will sharpen the feedback you’re hoping to receive.
Make it easy for others to share
How we ask for feedback matters too. Rather than framing your request too broadly (“I’m looking for feedback – can you share some?“), consider making a more targeted request. For example, someone looking to improve presentation skills could ask, “How would you rate the quality of my pacing?” or “Did you find my hand gestures convincing or distracting?” People typically resist giving feedback because they’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. You can help them bypass their fears by providing a “safe” entry point and directing them exactly where to go.
Ask the right person
Feedback isn’t about volume, but value. It’s better to receive just a bit of useful information than a lot of useless chatter. Getting too many strands of feedback can actually become confounding and counter-productive. “Feedback binging” may end up clouding your judgement and costing you willing partners. Once your feedback-giver feels like a generic choice, not a trusted source, he or she is unlikely to take the time and effort to share meaningful and actionable insights in the future.
Who you ask for feedback makes all the difference. Choose the right person (or people, if it’s a select group) to approach. They should be capable of addressing your request (knowledge), familiar with your past record (history), and positioned to help you move forward (experience). Seeking insights from those adjacent to your work can also bring unexpected benefits, so don’t be afraid to peer beyond the box.
Give a little nudge
Even if you’ve carefully framed your feedback request and target, it’s likely you’ll still be met with the occasional soft resistance. If you receive feedback that’s too broad or canned, don’t give up and stop there. With courtesy but confidence, pull it from others. You could say, “What specifically did I do well?” or “What is one thing I can do better next time?” Probing will ensure the conversation goes beyond pleasantries and actually yields helpful insights.
In a perfect world, we’d get the feedback we most want at the moment we need it most. Until that blissful time comes, there are steps we can take to ensure that we continue to make progress in our personal and professional lives, attracting the feedback that’s designed to bring out our best.
When the boss asks for feedback, be careful about what you say.
When a client hires me for a keynote or workshop, they’re usually looking to improve the way leaders share feedback with their teams. Sometimes they’re trying to help employees accept feedback with greater resilience and results. But every so often, a client will throw me a curveball, like this request that recently came through: “Can you help our employees give feedback to their line managers?”
Now that’s an intriguing question! Most of the workplaces I encounter are feedback hesitant. Some willingly dish it out, but do so politely, all bubble wrapped. It’s rare to come across a culture where feedback is embraced and elicited at all levels of an organization, especially at the top. That’s encouraging, but it also raises some reasonable concerns: What information should we share? How can we strike the right balance between candor and caution? And do our bosses really want to hear hard truths about themselves?
If your boss asks you for feedback, here are some ways to craft a helpful response that won’t hurt your standing or sanity.
Prepare before you share
You may be flattered by your boss’s request, but don’t jump right in. Take some time to reflect on what you’ll say, when you’ll say it, and how you’ll support it. Examples to illustrate your point make your feedback more constructive and credible. It’s also smart to ask your boss about their feedback styles. What kind of guidance do they typically find useful? Would they prefer a face-to-face conversation or an emailed summary? Bid for time and information — your feedback will be stronger.
Be honest and specific
Candor is kind when it’s shared with care. Focus on behaviors, actions, and specific situations rather than making personal judgments. (And whatever you do, don’t serve a praise sandwich.) For instance, instead of telling your boss that she’s a bad listener, you could say, “I’ve noticed that during team meetings, there have been times when it seemed like you might not have heard all perspectives.” Or instead of labeling your boss as scattered or unfocused, put the matter more broadly: “I’ve noticed that you jump from idea to idea in our brainstorming sessions.” Brutal honesty shouldn’t be brutish – after all, this person is still your boss.
Choose the right time and place
When giving feedback, timing is everything. Find an appropriate and private setting where both you and your boss can comfortably discuss the topic without distractions or interruptions. Don’t talk about sensitive issues in front of team members, and make sure to share feedback during low-stress moments. And it’s always good form to ask your boss permission to share feedback, even with an invitation. “You asked me to offer my take on how you’re doing. Is now a good time to discuss that?”
Don’t play boss
When your boss asks for feedback, it can be tempting to imagine all the things you might do if you were in his or her position. Resist the urge to “play boss” — stick to the observations you’ve made from the backseat. Remember that you are seeing only a partial picture of your boss’s performance and may not appreciate or realize the demands he or she is facing. This is a time for helpfulness, not hubris.
If more bosses asked for feedback (and genuinely meant it), they’d get the insights they want and the information they need. Employees can help their bosses look good and do better. When feedback goes both ways, each side wins.
Feedforward isn’t for snowflakes. Let’s set the record straight.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article exploring the rise of “feedforward” in the workplace. (They were kind enough to include me in their reporting.) The big idea: Bosses are nixing harsh and anxiety-producing terms (feedback, reviews) for gentler, less-threatening words (feedforward, connections). The shift to “softer” language is intended to put workers, especially younger employees, more at ease with performance feedback.
The Journal’s comments section blew up. (One friend called it a “Boomer bonfire.”) Reactions ranged from mockery to disbelief to outright disgust. Here’s a small, unredacted sampling:
“Feedforward?” Seriously? Please, HR staffers, tell the traumatized offended to toughen up—or, better yet, go someplace else.
Utter nonsense…pandering to the offspring of helicopter parents. Another report like that, WSJ, and I am cancelling my subscription.
Wow, just wow. We are neck deep with the snowflakes.
This article is so cringe-inducing I think I may have pulled a muscle. Corporate buzzwords have always been tiresome, but these terms are just awful.
I appreciate the honest and unvarnished feedback from readers. But I also think they could benefit from some additional context and clarity. So, here’s my quick attempt to set the record straight on what feedforward is and why it’s needed.
Feedforward isn’t a call for sugar-coating, sandwiching, or sucking up. It’s not a pander, a cop out, or a praise festival. And it’s definitely not a fad or sideshow. Feedforward is a management intervention first introduced nearly three decades ago, later popularized by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith and then expanded by me in The Feedback Fix.
So, what is it? Maybe we should start with what feedforward is NOT:
- Not a woke agenda drummed up by weak-kneed HR directors
- Not an attempt to pacify spineless snowflakes who are too easily “triggered”
- Not another empty corporate buzzword
- Not a preamble or pretext to fire people
Well, then, what is it? Here’s my working definition:
FEEDFORWARD: A strengths-based model of feedback that promotes candor, partnership and dialogue and emphasizes future possibilities, not past failures.
Even more basic: Fearless feedback that improves results and relationships.
As a model, feedforward is actually pretty simple: Have real conversations about real issues that matter, when they matter most. And do it in a way that leaves room for curiosity and collaboration, with the express purpose of identifying and addressing ways people can improve.
Feedforward: What’s in a name?
Critics will rightfully challenge: Why change the name if the goals remain (largely) the same?
For one thing, there’s the stigma of bad feedback experiences that routinely leave us feeling defeated and depleted. Calling it something else lightens some of the emotional baggage and offers the possibility that feedback will be received more favorably. (Obviously, this is a meaningless and empty gesture if we don’t adjust our tone and tactics.)
More importantly, calling it “feedforward” recognizes the changing times and terms of work today. Just like the switch from “stewardess” to “flight attendant” acknowledged the societal shifts that occurred as more men joined the ranks, “feedforward” represents the desire by many workers to experience a sense of forward progress in their professional lives. They don’t want to be held back by judgments of past failures they can’t control. They want to engage in dialogue about future possibilities they still can.
Without a doubt, this requires some attention to past performance. But how long we stay there, and who gets a say in what happens next, remains a sticking point. Traditional feedback typically offers a one-sided view of events and ends with one person “telling and selling.” Feedforward seeks a wider view of events and involves two people listening and learning from one another. One is about power and position. The other is about partnership and possibilities.
Shifting from feedback to feedforward
What does the shift from feedback to feedforward look like in practice?
- My job is to frame issues, not fix people.
- My feedback should provoke insights, not impose rules.
- I can’t change the past. Neither can they.
- I don’t know/can’t solve everything, so partnership is better than power.
- Ask more questions, make fewer judgements
- Actively listen to what others are saying
- Offer support and solutions where needed
- Give others more voice and choice over what should happen next
Feedforward is not about making our message sound less harsh. It’s about making our message feel more helpful. Ultimately, the point of feedback is to help others improve. It’s an act of service. And the best way we can serve others is by serving the issue with more candor, caring and collaboration — to give people a sense of agency in determining how they can develop a forward-focused view of their strengths and skills, designed and aligned with goals they set together with their leaders.
I’m encouraged by the companies and leaders who put partnership before power, agency over accountability, and relationships right beside results. Feedforward isn’t a play on words — it’s a playbook for more candor and connection in the workplace.
There’s a name for that: Progress.