Many leaders are taught that a mentor’s role is to give their mentee feedback and advice. Feedback has a place, but there are times when feedforward is the more impactful approach. Below are important mentoring tips that explain when to use feedback and feedforward.

Feedforward is a concept that Marshall Goldsmith often talks about in his writing about leadership communication. It’s also a key skill I help my clients develop.

There Are Two Distinctions to Make About Feedback and Feedforward:

  1. Past vs. future focus: Feedback is focused on what was said or done previously, while feedforward is focused on what could be said or done differently in the future.
  2. Telling vs. asking: Feedback is usually delivered via statements such as “You were not direct in asking for what you want.” Feedforward is usually delivered via questions, such as “What could you do differently next time to make your request more direct?”

This is not to say feedback doesn’t have a role. It is especially useful when pointing out a blind spot that may be impeding progress.

But when the mentee knows they missed the mark and they’re looking for better options for the future, try offering feedforward.

Your job is to listen for which is more helpful in the moment.

3 Tips for Better Mentoring

  1. Ask open-ended questions: Avoid yes/no questions in favor of open-ended questions that help them explore ideas they haven’t considered.
  2. Be curious: Let your own curiosity guide your questions.
  3. Slow down: Instead of rushing in with ideas and advice, leave space for them to come up with their own options.

Modern mentoring is so much more than simply giving advice and sharing what’s worked for you. Today it’s about helping the next generation of leaders to be successful in their own way. Feedforward is a skill for forward-thinking mentors and, ultimately, forward-thinking organizations.

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