Constructive feedback, does it exist?

Feedback is an interesting term. When you Google it, one of the first hits is from Wikipedia, which says: “Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself.” The “system” in this description refers to a sound system that picks up its own signal. You will probably recognize it; it happens when someone holds the microphone to close to the sound system.

The problem with this kind of acoustic feedback is that it is quite irritating. It is an annoying sound that everyone in the room wants to see ended sooner rather than later. The only way to improve this kind of feedback is to eliminate it.

Feedback in the workplace is intended to help improve someone’s performance. The challenge however, is that feedback is very difficult to give, and equally so, to receive. Feedback is often given in the form of “you did this or that wrong”, but that is not very constructive, is it? It is the type of acoustic feedback you would like to eliminate.

Marshall Goldsmith coined the term FeedForward as a constructive alternative. Like feedback, feedforward is based on past performance. However, unlike feedback, feedforward has its focus on improving for the future. The basics are simple: based on past performances you’ll provide tips for future improvement. No moaning about what went wrong, but constructively looking forward for improvement. Thus, when you provide unsolicited feedforward, keep it constructive and focus on future improvement instead of past performance.

You can also proactively request feedforward. Simply ask questions like “you’ve seen me in this or that situation, can you give me tips on what I can do to improve my performance next time when I am in such a situation?”

Also, you can use feedforward to improve your skills as well. In that case you might want to involve your stakeholders on a regular basis. For instance, if you want to become a better listener, you could ask them on a monthly basis a question like “you know I am working on becoming a better listener. Based on my performance in the past month, what tips might you have that can help me to improve my listening skills?”

This way there are two sides to the effort: firstly, you will receive the valuable input that will support you in your personal improvement. Secondly, by involving your stakeholders on a regular basis, you are managing their perception about your listening skills. They will realize that you are working on it and they will probably give you the benefit of the doubt whenever you might slip back into old habits.

Now, since feedforward is all about future improvement: what is your area for improvement in which you are going to include your stakeholders?


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