Workplace Rights

Weekly (11/8/09)

Topic of the Week  FeedForward... How to get people to really learn from each other

Making feed-forward a reality:

• DO let go of the past.

• DO tell the truth.

• DO improve yourself too.

• DON'T get cynical and negative.

Your Rant: I hate feedback, it just seems like we just beat each other up over past sins.

911 Repair,

Why is feedback so hard? Because most people automatically think of it as criticism. And criticism is tough to take, especially when our livelihood is on the line. Which reminds me of Jess Duttry, a 19 year old from Ohio. She was spotted standing on a street corner with a sign on her that said, "I cheated" and "Honk if I deserve a second chance." On her back it said, "I really love him."

Ms. Duttry knows how to give a creative apology. But there are more effective ways to show that you've moved past old mistakes and behaviors. I've listed three Do's and a Don't below to get everyone focused on improving future behavior rather than beating each up over the past. For more, check out "What Got You Here, Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter (Hyperion, 2007).

DO let go of the past. How can you turn this around so that everyone focuses on changing future behavior? Goldsmith coined a great word, "feed-forward," to represent the real goal of getting input, to create a better interaction in the future. So it's important to let go of past gripes and complaints and to focus on the kind of interaction that you'd like to see. Warning: this often takes practice.

DO tell the truth. So much of today's workplace involves tap dancing. We don't tell people what we're actually thinking because we don't want to deal with the fallout. So everyone tends to dance around the truth until it managed to bite your organization in the behind. I understand that it's tough to be a truth teller in a land of spin, but it's got to start someplace. Start with a small bit of truth and then gradually take more risks over time.

DO improve yourself too. Most executives seem to believe that feedback is better for "them," not "us." I couldn't disagree more. We all need input, to be honest the higher up in an organization that we are the more we need someone telling us like it is. So instead of being a boss who believes that input and criticism is a one-way street, take it as much as you dish it out. Your leadership here will encourage others to make a similar commitment to improve.

DON'T get cynical and negative. There is enough cynicism out there. We need to create organizations that are more positive and upbeat. Not Pollyannaish, but actively committed to getting saner and more effective. But resist the temptation to be someone who puts motivational posters on the wall, that will only make people more cynical. To bring more honesty to work, start being more honest.

Follow these tips and no one will have to stand on a street corner to make an apology, because everyone will be constantly learning from each other how to create a better workplace.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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