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The Best Way to Make Feedback Constructive: Practice FeedForward

February 15, 2012

What do you do when you care about a person?  You find ways to support their happiness and success, particularly when they’re motivated and moving in that direction.

What’s a good way to get behind someone you care about and help them increase their effectiveness and propel themselves forward?  Give them high quality feedback.

Feedback is nourishment for all who are committed to growth and development.  In”Want to Grow and Flourish? Seek Out the Gift of Feedback” and “Does Giving Feedback Scare You? You’re Not Alone,” you get a sense of my thoughts on feedback and its value.  I offered techniques for asking for it, as well as receiving and giving it.  Here I’m offering a few stem statements that you can use that will help you give appreciative and developmental feedback with greater ease and honesty.

  • Appreciative feedback is information about behavior that is effective and enables you to create desired results.  It’s the stuff you do that works well.
  • Developmental feedback is information about behavior you exhibit – something you’re doing, or not doing – which detracts from your effectiveness.

Both types of feedback are valuable and, when delivered skillfully, can be experienced as positive and constructive.

Each of the following stem statements is offered with an eye toward what to do versus what not to do or what is not working.

When giving Appreciative Feedback begin your comments with statements like these:

  • I like/admire the way you…  Keep it up!
  • You’re effective when you…
  • The way you____seems to work well.  Keep doing that.
  • I value your ability to…
  • I experience your strengths as…
  • You’re very good at…
  • You have a particular talent for…
  • Continue to…  You’re effective when you do that.

Try these statements when giving Developmental Feedback:

  • Consider…
  • As you move ahead, you might be more successful if you…
  • One suggestion for the future is…
  • Start to…  I think that would be helpful.
  • For the future, I would appreciate it if you would…  It would help me (or the team) to…
  • I’ve seen several people increase their effectiveness by…   Maybe that’s an idea you might try.
  • From now on, …
  • Going forward, …

The intention behind each of these stem statements is to encourage the giver to make an affirmative statement – a statement that points to preferred or suggested behavior to continue or begin.  It takes your comments out of the realm of focusing on the past and criticizing what the person has done.  Instead, you’re focused on what the person already does that works and making suggestions about future actions that may be more effective.

This technique was popularized by Marshall Goldsmith, author of many great books, and founder of a coaching process in which I’m certified.  Marshall calls the process FeedForward.  If you’d like to read more about Feedforwardclick here.

Practicing FeedForward can help you make the feedback process more positive and constructive, even when you have to address sensitive, difficult issues.


  • Be committed to being honest and communicating your message positively and constructively.
  • Ask for time to think about what you want to say and the best way to say it.  Doing so, you’re more likely to develop and deliver your message successfully.  Simply say, “Let me give your request some thought and I’ll get back to you later today.”  Think about it.  Get your framing right:  honest, compassionate and respectful. With that, you’re ready to deliver your message.
  • Feedback is not a dialogue or conversation.  In its purest form, it’s a description of behavior exhibited that works well, or a suggestion about behavior that might be more effective.
  • Close with, “Thanks for asking.  Let me know if I can be of help, going forward.” This simple statement lets the person know you’re willing to continue to be supportive of their efforts to be their best.
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