In the world of executive coaching, my friend and mentor, executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, has popularized a term called “feedforward.” Marshall challenges his executive clients to learn to give positive feedback on achievements and demonstrated qualities of leadership. But when it comes to critical feedback he suggests using feedforward instead.
What is Feedforward?
Feedforward involves giving suggestions or ideas on how to improve. There are distinct advantages to feedforward over critical feedback. Here are some of the benefits, according to Marshall:
Critical or negative feedback:
- Typically involves judging someone or some action as wrong and engenders defensiveness.
- It involves something that has happened in the past that can’t be redone.
- It’s difficult for most of us to give negative feedback. We aren’t very good at it.
- People take critical feedback personally and can shut down.
- Assumes people can make positive changes in the future.
- It can cover critical feedback but in a more positive manner.
- In giving ideas to people, you are empowering them to consider and implement these options.
- It’s a respectful way of offering to support and help someone consider changes that might be helpful.
Let’s apply the concept of feedforward to parenting our young adults. Rather than criticize our young adult children for what they are or are not doing, consider giving suggestions about what they could do. A parent with whom I am working complained about her son’s lack of effort to find work. Critical feedback would be something like: “Why are you sitting around and not getting a job?” Feedforward alternative might be:
“Can I make some suggestions as to how you might approach getting a job? Before I do, I want you to understand that I am offering to be a consultant and give you some suggestions, but it is entirely up to you if you pursue any of these. If you decide not to use any of my suggestions, I won’t be mad. There is a recruiting person I know and will give you his name. They can work with you to help you get a job in your area of interest. Also, I know someone at the company where I work who would be happy to meet you and discuss job opportunities, and I’d be willing to introduce you to him. Finally, there are some career coaches available at your school who you could talk to about how to get started in finding a job that is a good fit for you. Those are my ideas. Do you have any additional ideas? Remember, you’re free to pursue or not pursue any of the suggestions I make.”
It’s essential to make a couple of points as a parent. First, you are acting as a consultant and giving your son or daughter suggestions that they are free to consider or reject. Second, it’s a good practice to ask them if they have any ideas. Thirdly, it’s important to reassure them that you won’t be mad or upset at them if they do not pick one of your suggestions. Finally, you need to keep your promise of not being angry or upset if they don’t consider your ideas. We can’t control them and shouldn’t try, and they need to step up and take responsibility for their future.
What if my Young Adult Continues to Sit Around, do Nothing, and Avoid Getting a Job?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if feedforward worked perfectly? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If they are not living at home, there is not much you can do but continue to offer feedforward and be supportive of them finding work or other appropriate actions. If they are living at home and unwilling to work and contribute to the household – rent, help around the house, handle costs of phones, care, etc. It may be time to help them leave.
Helping a young adult to move out may be the most loving and empowering action you can take. Notice I said “helping” them leave, which is different than kicking them out. It’s a recognition that at some point parents have to let go and young adults have to move on. To this end, there may be some things parents can do to help the young adult get an apartment, increase suggestions regarding work and income to support living away from home and subsidize some of their costs for a transition period. Remember, parents, if they are living at home, you are subsidizing them; however, in moving out, you are positioning them to step up and take on these responsibilities.
For a fuller understanding of “feedforward” and how parents can use this, consider buying a paper copy or downloading Can You Speak Millennial”ese?’