“There is a fundamental problem with all types of feedback: it focuses on the past, on what has already occurred—not on the infinite variety of opportunities that can happen in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.”
– Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith created the feedforward exercise to change the focus of feedback from an analysis of what happens to suggestions for improving in the future.

His original article designed it as a group activity where people play both roles over the course of a single session. The following adaption is focused on what you can get in using this as a regular tool for your self-development:

  • Pick one behavior that you would like to change. Change in this behavior should make a significant, positive difference in your life.
  • Describe this behavior to a handful of people in your network. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, “I want to be a better listener.”
  • Ask for feedforward—for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. You are not allowed to get ANY feedback about the past. Your partner is only allowed to give ideas for the future.
  • Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. You are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. You are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgmental statements, such as, “That’s a good idea.”
  • Simply say “Thank you for the suggestions”.

Here are 11 reasons Goldsmith suggests for trying feedforward:

  1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past.
  2. It can be more productive to help people learn to be “right” than provide they were wrong
  3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people
  4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience
  5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback
  6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies
  7. Face it. Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it
  8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback.
  9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback
  10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers and team members.
  11. People tend to listen more attentively to feedforward than feedback