Feedforward vs. Feedback: How to communicate and collaborate better
How to give (and receive) feedback
Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, Deborah Tannen, and Charles Darwin have all argued that perhaps apart from fire, language is the most significant technological development that has set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But let’s be honest; it’s now not the only thing. We also can gossip, complain, and talk about the weather. And maybe in the context of an effective professional life, the ability to give and receive criticism will set you and your company apart, too.
But feedback is a tricky thing. It can be helpful to establish a culture of open communication and conversation, but if done incorrectly, it can be detrimental to your team’s success.
Unconstructive feedback can cause a variety of problems if not delivered or received in the right way. Negative feedback can demotivate individuals, making them less likely to engage in the criticized activity or behavior. This can lead to a decrease in productivity and performance.
Negative feedback can also lead to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities. This can make it difficult for individuals to take on new challenges or to try new things. It can damage relationships between the person giving the feedback and the person receiving it. It can also lead to tension and conflict within teams or organizations. Negative feedback can erode trust between supervisors and employees, making it difficult for managers to lead and manage their teams effectively. Unconstructive feedback may not be accurate and can be based on personal biases, emotions, or lack of understanding of the situation; it can create confusion and frustration for the person receiving it.
There’s a better, more comfortable, and more respectful way to communicate your feelings and concerns. It can foster a company culture of openness and fairness. And it forces you to consider your thoughts while collaborating and communicating with others.
What is feedforward?
Instead of criticizing past actions or behaviors, feedforward provides suggestions for future improvement. Feedforward is often used as an alternative to traditional feedback, as it can be more positive and constructive. It emphasizes potential and opportunities for growth rather than pointing out mistakes or shortcomings. It also allows the person receiving the feedback to take ownership of their development and encourages them to take the initiative in finding solutions and implementing changes.
Feedforward can be used in various settings, including education, sports, business, and healthcare. It can be especially useful when traditional feedback may be seen as hostile or threatening, such as in performance evaluations or during difficult conversations with employees. It can lead to a culture that levels some hierarchies and means that those who are traditionally higher up receive constructive feedback, too.
Feedforward best practices
A tried and true feedforward method is the observation-feeling-need-request (OFNR) format. It involves expressing:
- Observation - a specific, objective, and non-judgmental description of the behavior or situation.
- Feeling - a description of your emotions or reactions to the observation.
- Need - the underlying need or value that is driving your feeling.
- Request - a specific, concrete, and positive request for future behavior or action.
This format is respectful, clear, and constructive and focuses on the positive impact of changes rather than on the negative aspects of the current or past behavior. By expressing observations, feelings, needs, and requests in a clear and structured way, the OFNR format can help to build trust, promote mutual understanding, and facilitate positive change.
It is important to note that feedforward should be well-informed and specific and delivered in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way.
Another essential aspect of feedforward is emphasizing how your personal needs were fulfilled or ignored. It is good practice to include this in your feedforward. Some examples of keeping your needs in focus include:
- “I noticed the report you wrote last week was comprehensive! I appreciate your work–and it made my workload much less overwhelming, too. Would you be willing to use the same format next time?”
- “I know the report we planned to publish this week wasn’t ready yet. I’m feeling a bit stressed about it now. Maybe we can work on it together to make our workloads more manageable in the future. Would you consider that?”
Setting time aside as a team to consider feedforward and constructive suggestions can be transformative, especially in the long run. This can be more organic or a scheduled meeting, depending on your and your team’s needs.
Open and clear communication
Workplace communication is a crucial aspect of any organization. It helps employees understand their responsibilities and goals and how they contribute to the company’s overall success. However, when communication breaks down, it can lead to many problems impacting productivity and morale.
Miscommunication in the workplace can lead to confusion and misunderstandings, resulting in a loss of productivity. When employees feel like they are not being heard or their opinions are not valued, it can lead to decreased morale and a toxic work environment. This can lead to high-stress levels, frustration, and even employee turnover.
Feedforward can clear both issues, level steep communication hierarchies, and promote an ego-free work environment.
There are some pretty substantial perks of switching to a feedforward-centered workplace, like:
Everyone benefits - Sometimes, those more traditionally higher-up in the company don’t get quality feedback because there is not a workplace culture that allows employees to express their ideas openly. But feedforward flattens the hierarchies and allows everyone to participate in the critical process.
It looks ahead - Feedback, well, looks backward. But feedforward is forward thinking. It doesn’t stress prior mistakes but emphasizes future growth.
It’s non-toxic and non-judgemental - Feedforward doesn’t lead to resentment like unconstructive feedback might. It can lead to a much more pleasant work environment and foster cooperation and support.
Miscommunication in the workplace can significantly negatively impact productivity, morale, and relationships among colleagues. Constructive feedback can help improve performance but can also be harmful if not delivered or received properly. An alternative to traditional feedback is “feedforward,” which provides suggestions for future improvements and actions and emphasizes potential and opportunities for growth. Feedforward should be well-informed, specific, and delivered in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. Good workplace communication is crucial for the success of any organization, and feedforward can help establish an open and fair company culture.