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The New Workplace Lingo: Out With 'Feedback,' In With 'Feedforward'

It's a common dread — your manager wants to meet to give you some feedback, which immediately inspires fear, anxiety and defensiveness.

“Feedback has become an instrument of fear, and not joy,” Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix, tells

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

Employers across the country are reevaluating their approach to communication in the workplace. As they do, an evolution is taking place that's aiming to make performance reviews more constructive. It's out with feedback, in with "feedforward."

The traditional feedback approach tends to focus on past actions that employees have no control over, leaving them defeated and demoralized. In contrast, feedforward shifts the focus to the future, focusing on improvement and development. It's a new way of thinking that’s gaining traction with companies, executive coaches, and human resource professionals.

The transformation comes at a time when younger generations, who often prefer a more positive and supportive work environment, are making up a significant portion of the workforce. Feedback discussions can trigger stress responses in the brain that make it hard to think clearly and cause us to become nervous, tense up, and feel sweaty or hot. To make the experience more comfortable, companies are replacing terms like "feedback" and "review" with more constructive alternatives such as "connect sessions," coaching, self-reflection, and "opportunity discussions," reports the The Wall Street Journal.

Companies like AstraZeneca and Microsoft are leading the change. AstraZeneca has shifted from annual reviews to quarterly check-ins, embracing "feedforward" and "performance development." Meanwhile, Microsoft has adopted the term "perspectives" instead of traditional feedback, the Journal notes.

The feedforward approach is distinct and valuable in many ways, says executive coach Marshall Goldsmith in a blog on his website.

Athletes, Goldsmith writes, have long used something similar — envisioning — to focus on positive future outcomes. Race car drivers are taught to look at the road, not the wall bordering the track, he says, while basketball players are taught to imagine the ball going in the hoop in a perfect shot. Feedforward is especially useful for successful people, who enjoy hearing ideas that will help them achieve their goals, and who tend to push back against negative assessments of themselves. Other key reasons that feedforward is beneficial, he says, include findings that people tend to take feedforward less personally than feedback, listen to it more closely, and act on it more quickly.

Is feedforward vs feedback just a matter of semantics? Far from it, proponents say. The word "feedforward" signifies a fundamental shift in workplace communication. Framing feedback in a different way transforms its meaning. To many, feedback feels like an exposé of past wrongdoing. Feedforward is intended to be a growth-oriented, forward-looking perspective that feels upbeat, if not positive.

As Hirsch, the author, explains in a TEDx Tarrytown talk on YouTube, “Getting feedback makes us feel smaller when it makes us look back on a past that we can’t change instead of out towards a future we can. That future is a place of promise and potential, of change and opportunity. Feedback doesn’t have to be a source of fear — it can make room and rise to a new emotion — joy. The joy of knowing we can do something different or become someone different. The joy that comes from recognizing feedback doesn’t have to hold us back. With just a small change, it can push us forward. Feedforward.”

Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director and AI editor at Alphy.

Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails


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