Instead of Looking Back, Let’s Look Forward (6 Tips to Give Feed-Forward)

Instead of Looking Back, Let’s Look Forward (6 Tips to Give Feed-Forward)

Feedback is a part of every workplace and a common tool for individual improvement. Applying constructive methods to improve existing and develop new skills is crucial to any performing culture, or individual, seeking advantages. Yet through this tried, long standing interaction, we overlook how to enhance the ways we give feedback. The constant change among workplaces demands new, emerging, interpersonal strategies that challenge the status quo of feedback and how to develop the individual.

Enter Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame #1 Executive Coach in the world, and my mentor and good friend of 20+ years. His work continues to accomplish leadership and workplace development through the newest coaching concept of “feed-forward”. Feed-forward is a constructive communication style that delivers individual growth by focusing on what’s ahead and collaboratively preparing the individual for future success.

Feedback, which many falls back on, is rooted in the negative by looking back on mistakes and attempting to develop from there. If mishandled, this can lead to lower individual motivation to change and, in group settings like meetings, innovation and dialogue can be suppressed. Feed-forward changes the conversation by looking ahead. It positively influences the dialogue and encourages individuals to grow. Here are 5 actionable ways you can begin applying it:

1. Start with the Question
Arguably any leader’s greatest strength is in the questions they ask. Powerful inquiry opens the doorway for reflection, conversation and development to begin. As a leader, applying the feed-forward approach, each question must be constructed with a focus on the future, and it should include ideas related to what the individual can do and how they can develop. What can I do better next time? What is the best way to achieve this in the future?

2. Forward Influenced Conversation
As leaders, if we engage with others to think about the future and what can be done to prepare for it, then our conversation must also reflect this philosophy as well. Put simply, the dialogue between leaders and others should consistently integrate future thinking. Rather than stating “Here’s what you did…”, the message can be phrased as “Next time, you can…” A simple tweak in how the message is communicated can make all difference between dwelling in the past or looking towards the future.

3. Dialogue and Co-Create Rather than Sell and Tell
There’s a fundamental difference in dictating and dialoguing in an interaction, and the difference is easy to recognize. Feeling patronized is experienced when we are being talked at; the conversation is a one-way trip with little room for questions. Dialoguing differs by framing the conversation as a two-way conversation; the other side can participate, ask questions and speak. By creating equality in the conversation with equal airtime, feed-forward further encourages the spark for the individual to change. Using this approach may phrase questions as “Help me understand…” Or “Would you mind…”

4. Active Listening
How we organize our messages and communicate them is just as powerful as how we listen. At the core, feed-forward is about weaving the developing individual’s mind, thoughts, and focus on what they can do. As dialogue is formed, active listening is critical here (pun intended). It presents an opportunity for the individual coaching to confirm that they are engaged with the other side. If needed, it also works as a method to clarify and adjust the conversation; ensuring all parties are on the same page. Where hearing occurs when one regurgitates verbatim what was said, active listening plays back what was said through the individual’s authentic style. Phrases that support these situations can be “What I’m hearing you say is…”, “Thank you sharing that, my understanding is that…” or “Would you clarify…”

5. Use “And” Rather Than “But”
And… after actively listening and mirroring back your understanding be sure to use the words “and” rather than “but.” Saying the word, “but” negates your last statement. Imagine you were just told you are a great physician, BUT you need to think about the bigger picture. Change that to “You are a really great physician AND I invite you to think about the future of your work.” Sounds different, right? Now you can be both a great physician AND consider other ways of thinking.

6. Reflect on your Feed-Forward Skills
Providing actionable, productive feed-forward communication is a skill and just like throwing a baseball or playing an instrument, it needs practice to become natural. The same goes here for applying feed-forward into your life and daily interactions. After a session or session has concluded, take a few minutes to debrief and think over how well it worked. Perhaps it’s better to write your thoughts in a journal, record a video or connect with another coach.

Feed-forward asks us to breakaway from what we know and what we’ve experienced through feedback. Feedback can crush motivation and sour relationships by focusing on what people did wrong. By integrating these steps and frequently applying them, the channels of positivity and motivation to change openly. The goal of any coach should be to add value in every conversation and the feed-forward approach weaves this idea together.

State, local, federal and company leaders: Promote dialogue to create a new vision for humanity and consider these leadership practices.

State, local, federal and company leaders: Promote dialogue to create a new vision for humanity and consider these leadership practices.

What we need now is not more division. What we need now is not more bloodshed, violence and coercion. What we need now is more emotional connection with those in pain. We must have the courage to step in with love, rather than hatred for those in pain. History has shown us since the Civil Rights Movement, murder of JFK, murder of MLK, and the murder of RFK and the thousands of other brutal deaths in the name of civil rights, that we must lead with an understanding of the unique psychology of groups, and individuals.

Group and Social Change happens in a clear process: 1. form, 2. storm, 3. norm and 4. perform. Some storming processes are more brutal than others and some can be done with humor and even grace. The best change happens with a process of empathy, emotional regulation, alignment of common human beliefs, an offer to help and walk beside those in fear and anger, and an invitation to facilitate dialogue.

There are two methods of storming that have two very distinct outcomes. Riots cause death and destruction of property. Dialogue creates a newfound vision for a better future for all of humanity.

1. Crowd/Group Riots: Some of the worst riots in history including the George Floyd riots have led to the death of 100s of individuals, police officers, resignations, job loss, deaths and unconscionable emotional upset. Such examples include the 1992 Rodney King Race Riot, 1967 nationwide riots in most major US cities that led to over 100 deaths, and the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr which were as widespread and deadly.

What can we learn from rioting behavior? Are there leaders who have taught us in history how to turn violence into opportunity? The second form of storming can happen when we introduce a different way of interacting without violence.

2. Dialogue. On April 4, 1968, on the eve of Martin Luther King assassination, despite concerns for his safety, Robert F. Kennedy gave an impassioned speech to call for dialogue instead of violence to a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis, IN. RFK invited compassion instead of violence, eloquently communicating the pain he felt when his brother, too, was killed by a white man.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

And, Senator George Mitchell spent several days in Ireland during the Peace Accords, working through the grueling emotional pain of those from North and South Ireland. I spoke with Senator Mitchell back in 1998, and he told me that being with the people, and truly empathizing with their pain and working through the details of the pain is what brought the Ireland Peace Accords to consensus.

There are common denominators to requests for help, be it sexual orientation, race, color, or gender. The common denominator is emotional pain. It is beyond the threshold of pain to be singled out due to our genetics, to be hurt, to be talked down to, to be discarded, to be disrespected.

This kind of behavior dates back in our memories to the schoolyard bully and back in history to the stone aged man dragging “his woman” by the hair. It is not to be tolerated, however, it must not be fought with any other weapon but dialogue, consensus building, empathy, caring, and moving toward a better and more understanding human right. The human right to be seen equal in the eyes of all.

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