The Difference Between “Feedback” and “Feedforward”

Dear Coach,

Is there really a difference between “feedback” and “feedforward”?

Best regards,


Dear Nicole,

Absolutely! I read several years ago about a study in which subjects were wired with fMRI technology. Through headsets, they heard a word and researchers studied which parts of their brains fired up in response.

One of the words was “feedback.” Researchers discovered that this word instantaneously triggered the subjects’ limbic threat recognition system. This was so even though there were no other words to suggest the feedback would be negative. The word itself put people in fight, flight or freeze mode.

MGSCC cofounder Marshall Goldsmith has for years continually urged leaders and managers to replace feedback with feedforward. Instead of focusing on the rearview mirror, what happened, keep your primary attention on the road ahead, what needs to change for the journey to be safe and successful.

Since incorporating Marshall’s concept into my coaching work, the results have been wonderful. I continually hear from my coaching clients that when they substitute feedforward for feedback, or when they quickly pivot from feedback to feedforward, positive results ensue.

To illustrate, in the left column of this table are examples of feedback, and in the right column the feedforward equivalent.

Notice how easy it is to convert feedback into feedforward if you put your mind to it. Unfortunately, most leaders and managers tend to get stuck on the rearview mirror. The result is often anger, frustration, fear, and other negative emotions, and often a lost opportunity at hitting a reset button that would have produced a long-term win-win relationship.

Nicole, I encourage you in your own communications and in your coaching work to adopt feedforward as the default habit. If you feel compelled to begin with feedback, keep it brief, to the point, and spend more time on feedforward.

Feedforward, another Goldsmith gem. Thank you, Marshall!

Best regards,


Jathan Janove is a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching Master Coach and Practice Leader. You can learn more about him here. If you have a question you’d like him to address, please email us at



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