Earlier this month I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a dinner discussion with Janet Kraus, CEO of Peach.
As expected, the discussion and “behind the curtain” stories were inspiring and energizing. What I didn't expect was to leave with an entirely new perspective on a common term that we all know as feedback.
The importance of feedback
Think this phrase in your boss's voice: "Can I give you some feedback?"
It doesn't make you feel good. Instead it gives you that pit in your stomach as if a disaster just occurred.
Feedback is a necessary part of growth for both individuals and corporations. And we like growth, growth is a necessary component for thriving. So, we need feedback in order to thrive.
If feedback leads to thriving, it shouldn't be something we dread, it should be something we embrace and seek. How do we change the idea of feedback from negative to positive?
The ability to accept feedback is a highly valued quality. Sheryl Sandberg lists this as the number one thing she looks for in employees because "people who can take feedback well are people that can learn and grow quickly."
My question is, when do you learn how to take feedback? Is it something we are taught or can be taught? Is the ability to accept feedback something you either have or don't? How do we foster this quality in more people so that all of us can learn and grow quickly?
Forget feedback, give feedforward
I wish I could claim credit for this, but it was all Janet. During dinner, Janet shared that she doesn't give "feedback", instead she gives "feedforward". Why does that make a difference?
As defined by the oxford dictionary, feedback is "information about reactions…which is used as a basis for improvement".
Think about the last piece of feedback you received. Too often, the actual feedback we receive is focused on the first part of that definition: the reaction. In order for feedback to be valuable to anyone, we should focus on the second part of the definition: how that information can make you better.
Changing the word to "feedforward" instantly makes it focus more on the valuable part of the definition. Forward gives the impression of movement; steps towards your goal vs. back which focuses on the past and feels restrictive.
Delivery is key
From my experience on both sides of the feedforward conversation, changing the concept of feedback from negative to positive it's all about delivery. Calling it "feedforward" automatically puts the term in a more positive light. In all the examples of feedforward that Janet gave, she used "and" instead of "but". Think about it: "and" is inclusive, it builds on the previous clause. The word "but" instantly erases everything you just said, so that "compliment sandwich" you planned on using to deliver the feedback is now just a pile of cold cuts.
Feedback doesn't have to be negative. It's "information about reactions" - nothing in that definition qualifies the reactions as negative. Telling people what they do really well is equally as important as suggestions for improvement. If you don't know what your strengths are, how can you set goals? How will you know the incredible value that you bring to different situations? How will you know where you fit best in a team environment? Effective feedback benefits all: the giver, the recipient, and the organization.
Feedback typically doesn't feel beneficial even though we all know it is. It's up to us - everyone, and especially those in formal leadership positions - to make those that we interact with feel that receiving feedback is in their best interest.
Let's implement feedforward together; make sure everyone knows it doesn't knock you down, it opens doors and enables you to become your best-self.