Using the Four Types of Feedback Effectively


You’ve likely heard when you deliver feedback it should be balanced. When you have heard that, what people typically are suggesting that you should strive to give people a balance of positive and negative feedback.

FeedbackThis advice is only half-right.

It’s an understandable misunderstanding because people think there are only two types of feedback, when in fact there are four.

The Four Types of Feedback

Negative feedback, or corrective comments about past behavior. These are things that didn’t go well.

Positive feedback, or affirming comments about past behavior. These are things that went well and need to be repeated.

Negative feedforward, or corrective comments about future behavior. These are things that don’t need to be repeated next time.

Positive feedforward, or affirming comments about future behavior. These are things that would improve performance in the future.

The distinction that is largely missing for most people is the focus on the future or feedforward.

As you begin to understand the power of balancing both positive and negative input with observations about the past (which can’t be changed) and advice for the future (which can be changed), you have a new paradigm for the feedback and coaching process.

Here are five balancing strategies to help you use these four types of feedback in a way to help the other person receive and use your insights to improve performance.

Five Balancing Strategies

  • Make sure you use them all. Which means you must understand the importance of each, and have insights in each area to share. The starting point must always be usefulness. Your challenge is to look for examples in all four areas, not make something up or be overly generic.
  • Ask the other person his/her opinion, first. Ask questions about all four areas. Do it without it being an interrogation – ask something like “How do you think it went?” Or, more specifically, “What did you think went well?” “What do you wish you had done differently?” Then ask about the future with questions like, “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?” “What will you avoid next time? “What do you plan to make sure you do next time?”
  • Tie it all together. Connect the dots for people between past performance and how that relates to the future. This may require generalizing out an idea or behavior. Tying together past and future can help keep people from being defensive or spending their energy trying to justify the past – which can’t be changed anyway.
  • More ‘and,’ less ‘but.’ When you tie ideas together, do it with “and” not “but.” “But” erases everything said prior to using the word “but.” “And” is inclusive and draws people forward emotionally.
  • Focus on the future. While you want the feedback to be balanced, the overall focus needs to be on the future. Remember no one can change the past – its value in a feedback situation is for context, consequences and concrete examples, not for dwelling, hand-wringing or excessive blame. Always end the conversation talking about the future, including their thoughts (see suggestion above about asking their opinion) early and often. Doing this will give you the best shot at an action plan of which the other person will feel ownership.

Hopefully this gives you a bigger view of what balanced feedback can be… and how your feedback can be more successful in helping others create even better results.

If you’re looking for strategies and solutions for giving better performance feedback – feedback that actually impacts performance & creates engagement – check out our Remarkable Learning training session, No More Performance Reviews, here!

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  1. Erik says

    Great post — thanks for the information. In my humble opinion, there is only one type of feedback, and that’s feedback. I think the message can get lost when you use “positive & negative.”

  2. says

    Love the article ! Having worked for a call center I can assure you that I received all 4 types. The problem was that the negative feedback was coupled with both negative and positive feedforward . What was most damaging in my mind was that the negative feedback alone was what was recorded in my employment record thereby giving the impression that only my weaknesses were being documented. Companies using strategy have incredibly high turnover ..Not only that, but knowing that all your negative feedback is piling up in your work record is discouraging to a conscientious employee. I’m hoping some will see this post and consider a new approach to employee coaching.

  3. says


    I love the idea of feed forward, even if it went well. We usually only think of that if we are giving negative feedback.

    Incorporating this point is always helpful: Ask the other person his/her opinion, first. People are less defensive which you are asking them questions to help improve the situation in the future.

    Thanks for the excellent post.


    • says

      Connie – Asking people what they thought about the performance is probbly the single most important part of the process from my perspective – and is worthy of a post itself – thanks for the idea/inspiration!

      Kevin :)

  4. says

    Hi Kevin,
    I know this is an old post but I was looking for an article that covers types of feedback, to link back to. I wrote an article on the subject from my perspective, but as you mentioned, balance is what it is all about. Aslo, there are so many models for delivering feedback, it would have been impossible for me to cover everything in one article.


  1. […] what to do next time, not just tell them what they did wrong. For more on this, see my post about using the four types of feedback effectively. Get Your 101 Ways to Become a Remarkable Leader Special ReportWould you like to:Grow your skills […]

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