Feedback vs Feedforward: Driving Change in a Positive Manner

Marshall Goldsmith has created a groundbreaking and positive approach to drive change in leaders and help others become a better version of themselves — it’s called feedforward

In feedforward, you will have 2 roles:

  • Learn as much as you can
  • Help as much as you can

Rules of Feedforward

Rule #1: No feedback about the past

Have you ever been impressed whenever someone brought up your previous wrongdoings? We often spend too much time focusing on the past while giving feedback, when there’s nothing we can do to change it. So in implementing feedforward, let’s not dwell on the past but rather focus on what we can do to improve our future instead. 

Rule #2: Don’t judge or criticize ideas

When somebody gives you a gift, what will you say? You’ll say thank you, and receive it without judging or criticizing — this is exactly what happens in providing feedforward. You should always treat your peer’s input or ideas as a gift and receive them without judgment. 

How does Feedforward work? 

You can do the feedforward exercise with a team as small as 6 people, to large groups of 6,000 people. Each person has to pick one thing they want to improve on. Then all they have to do is follow this flow:

My name is…, I want to get better at ….

The others will give them 1-2 quick ideas for the future — no feedback about the past. Subsequently, the person will say ‘Thank You’ and move on to talk to other people in the group. The goal of this exercise is to talk to as many people as you can in about 5-6 minutes. At the end of the exercise ask them to complete this sentence with one word:

This exercise was…

Marshall has done the feedforward exercise in multiple countries and 95% of the people claimed that this exercise is positive, simple, helpful, even fun. 

The feedforward exercise is fast

When you think of it, “fun” is usually the last word you would use to describe a feedback activity. When Marshall asked the reason why they think the exercise is fun instead of painful, the first thing they say is because it’s fast. 

Sometimes during coaching, we can get carried away and talk too much. As we keep talking, we can possibly provide more ideas, however, the quality of our ideas gets worse. The problem with that is the audience might forget the first great idea after a while, and they will be stuck with the not-so-good ideas we mentioned last. However, with this exercise, you will learn how to give one or two very quick ideas that will actually help others.

There are no judgments

Throughout the exercise, if you are allowed to judge or critique each other’s comments, you would have spent twice as much time debating about the comments as listening to the comments. 

But how much would you learn by proving others wrong and proving you’re right? Nothing

Around 65% of our interpersonal communication time is spent on proving how smart we are and how dumb someone else is — so when we cut that out, life becomes much more positive. 

“I listened better in this feedforward exercise than I almost ever listened in my life. Normally, when other people talk to me I’m so busy composing my next comment to prove how smart I am, I am not really listening. I’m just composing.” said a gentleman in one of Marshall’s classes. 

The irony is that he is a Nobel Prize winner. A Nobel Prize winner who’s trying to prove that he was smart in a management class. 

A common misconception in coaching

Oftentimes, coaches have the misconception of having to be smarter, more superior, and understand their clients deeply in order to help them — which is untrue. Most of the time we learn so much more from people we don’t actually know because they don’t have any kind of stereotype, history, or baggage related to us that can skew their opinions. 

Whenever we finished this feedforward exercise, no matter in what country, everyone felt the need to say “I have your problem too”. This shows that even though we have different cultures, we ourselves are not that different on the inside.

We don’t have to be better than others to help. 

What’s great about feedforward is that the whole focus is on helping each other. It’s a very simple and non-judgmental process. With this exercise, you’ll learn how to ask for input, and to listen in a non-defensive manner. You will learn how to say thank you and give recognition for other people’s ideas as you treat them like a gift. You don’t have to use the gift, you just need to listen to it. 




Leave your reply.
  • Amine
    · Reply

    Thank you for sharing
    I love the idea of feedforward. I first discovered in your book What got you here won’t get you there. Then listened to your interviews
    This article is an excellent tool I can use with my clients and family
    Thank Marshall for keeping inspiring me

  • What is the verified source for the statement: Around 65% of our interpersonal communication time is spent on proving how smart we are and how dumb someone else is — so when we cut that out, life becomes much more positive.

    I’d like to read more on that.

  • I am so grateful for your blog post.Much thanks again. Keep writing.

  • Can I just say what a relief to seek out somebody who actually is aware of what theyre talking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know the way to carry an issue to gentle and make it important. More folks must read this and perceive this aspect of the story. I cant imagine youre no more popular because you positively have the gift.

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