Learning from Feedback, Part 2: From Feedback to Feedforward

How Emotional Intelligence Helps Communication

One of the most useful results of developing emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the emotions of those around us. By understanding these emotions, we can begin to pick-up on the subtleties of peoples’ reactions – What compliments engage them? What language makes them respond positively or negatively?

Whether our work demands that we lead, follow, or collaborate; give orders, receive them, or share leadership, the ability to understand and respond to the emotions of those we work with is integral to effective workplace communication.

Communication in the Workplace


In the workplace, communication may take the form of feedback, whether formal or informal. Employees need to know if their work is in line with the goals set by their leaders, and leaders need to know if their guidance is effectively moving their team forward.

However, Marshall Goldsmith, recognized as one of the top leadership thinkers in the world, explains that there is a fundamental problem with 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.”

From Feedback to Feedforward

Goldsmith suggests replacing most instances of feedback with feedforward.

Feedforward is similar to feedback in that it encourages positive changes in behavior. It differs, however, in that it deals solely with what needs to happen in the future.

Goldsmith describes a simple group activity to practice feedforward:

In pairs, participants take turns sharing a behavior that they would like to improve and receiving feedforward from their partner. This feedforward must give advice for future actions which can bring about the desired improvement, and cannot mention the past. While receiving feedforward, participants cannot comment on the feedforward – only listen attentively and take note of the advice. They then thank their partner for the feedforward, and the roles are reversed. (For a full outline of the activity, visit Goldsmith’s website here).


While receiving feedback can often be stressful and demoralizing, Goldsmith reports that when participants describe the feedforward activity, “the words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as ‘great’, ‘energizing’, ‘useful’, or ‘helpful.’ One of the most commonly-mentioned words is ‘fun!’”

In my coaching practice, I use feedforward with clients/leaders in three ways: I teach it to them, I use it in coaching them, and I request it from them in order to further align my work with their goals.

The Importance of a Forward-Thinking Mindset

Businessman finding the solution of a maze

Businessman finding the solution of a maze

Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Ruminating on the past does not solve problems – creating plans for progress does.

Feedforward aims at creating a forward-thinking mindset by establishing a goal for the future and outlining specific actions to make it a reality.

You may find yourself surrounded by people who focus on your past mistakes without offering ideas for improvement. If so, I would love to provide you with feedforward and help you develop a forward-thinking mindset. As a certified Executive Coach, I apply strength-based approaches to help you identify the strongest aspects of your character. By applying your strengths to your goals we create a vision of a future you want to be part of, and then I provide support to help you turn your vision into reality.

For a free consultation on your goals and dreams, please call 805-965-8595