Feedback is one of the hottest buzzwords of the new millennium. Whether it's Millennials forcing companies to become more transparent, or start-ups using agile methodology to launch, collect feedback and pivot, the idea of consistent feedback has permeated our corporate environment.
And yet, if we take a moment to think about it, direct feedback is actually against our nature. For better or worse, we humans have fragile egos, and we cower when we're not accepted by others. Therefore, to suggest that we should all be transparent feedback-evangelists would be akin to suggesting that we suddenly forget we need validation and change one of our most fundamental traits as human beings.
And yet, we all know the rationale behind feedback. We all agree that it's necessary for us to know where we -- and our ideas -- stand. We need constant input from others to gauge our progress and help us move forward in successful ways.
So is there a better alternative to feedback?
Last month, I was fortunate to attend a session by Anna Birch, President & CEO of Adventure Links, who taught a group of fellow entrepreneurs a different technique that leadership icon Marshall Goldsmith uses for providing those valuable inputs.
She pointed out that feedback makes us defensive; but on the contrary, feedforward lets us tap into the curiosity of others and open their minds to our suggestions.
While feedback consists of a direct critique to past performance, feedforward provides a glimpse into what the future could look like if behavior were to be changed.
It works like this: Let's say I'm an intern who submitted a project to you. You could make a list of changes and edits you'd like to see, and ask me why I chose that abhorrent shade of purple.
That would be feedback.
Or, you could say, "I see that you've chosen this shade of purple. Now that I see it, I wonder how it would look in green, yellow and orange."
The key here is two-fold: First, you're projecting into the future, and second, you're using language that persuades rather than offends.
You can ensure you're giving feedforward by using phrases like "I wonder if," or "It makes me wonder about," or "Do you think you would consider..." All of these phrases help the other person wonder alongside you or consider new options in the future, instead of focusing on what was wrong in the past.
In fact, asking others to simply consider is a leadership strategy I use often, especially in situations where the person I'm trying to reach is particularly objectionable, illogical or stuck in their ways. After all, asking someone to simply consider something is harmless, and most rational people want to be outwardly seen as considerate, even if they've already chosen what they want.
To that effect, keep in mind that the primary benefit of feedforward is that it opens minds to what you have to say. Consider the super important reality that no matter what your feedback is, it won't matter if the person receiving it has already tuned you out.
The next time you need to get your point across, try feedforward with your business partner, your direct reports, your boss and even your significant other. Given how gentle feedforward is, you may especially want to use it on the latter!