Feedforward Messages

Feedforward is information you provide before sending your primary messages; it reveals something about the messages to come. Feedforward includes such diverse examples as the preface or the table of contents in a book, the opening paragraph of a chapter, movie previews, magazine covers, and introductions in public speeches. Feedforward has four major functions: (1) to open the channels of communication, (2) to preview the message, (3) to altercast, and (4) to disclaim.

To Open the Channels of Communication. Often we preface our messages with comments whose only function is to open the channels of communication. The infamous "opening line" ("Do you come here often?" or "Haven't we met before?") is a clear example of this type of feedforward. In fact, when such feedforward messages don't precede an initial interaction, you sense that something is wrong and may conclude that the speaker lacks the basic skills of communication.

To Preview Future Messages.Feedforward messages frequently preview other messages. Feedforward may, for example, preview the content ("I have news for you"), the importance ("Listen to this before you make a move"), the form or style ("I'll be brief"), or the positive or negative quality of subsequent messages ("You're not going to like this, but here's what I heard").

To Altercast.The type of feedforward known as altercasting asks the receiver to approach your message in a particular role or even as someone else. For example, you might ask a friend, "As a single mother, what do you think of the new child care proposals?" This question casts your friend into the role of single mother (rather than that of teacher, Democrat, or Baptist, for example). It asks your friend to assume a particular perspective.

To Disclaim.A disclaimer is a statement that aims to ensure that your message will not reflect negatively on you. Disclaimers entice the listener to hear your message as you wish it to be heard rather than through some assumption that might reflect negatively on you. For example, to ensure that people listen to you fairly, you might disclaim any thought that you're biased against one gender:

"I'm no sexist, but ..." The disclaimer is discussed in greater detail in Lecture 6.