Feedback can be a tricky thing. More often than not it has a negative connotation and for leaders or anyone who gives feedback, it can be uncomfortable, awkward, and intimidating. Moreover, there are those instances when feedback goes awry, with recipients either receiving it poorly, or wherein the corrective intent isn’t absorbed in a way that leads to improvement.
While giving feedback effectively may not come naturally to many of us, fortunately, there is a framework for giving it without falling into the counterproductive traps that we often do, like giving feedback in a roundabout way or generalizing and getting personal.
The model is called SBI: Situation, Behavior, and Impact, and the intention behind the model is to focus the facts and how they impact a particular situation without getting personal or speculation as to the reason for the behavior.
The first step is to lay out the situation, which typically involves a time and place, along with what was happening — so was it in the morning board meeting, or during an afternoon conference call with a client? This specificity provides context for the feedback.
The second part of the process is addressing the behavior — what exactly did the person do that you want to discuss? It’s very important to not read into behaviors, but simply state what you observed. So, you can mention that you noticed someone made a number of gaffes during a presentation – but try not to say something like, “It’s obvious that you didn’t prepare well.” The purpose is to create a dialog, not jump to conclusions. At this point, we don’t know whether it was truly a lack of preparation, or perhaps it was nerves or another issue in the person’s life impacting performance.
Finally, state the impact. Using “I” statements, not “you” statements, this is where you lay out how the behavior impacted you or others. You could say something like, “I felt like our firm didn’t give leave the client with a great impression and I am concerned about our methods of preparation.”
From here, the person who you are giving the feedback to will likely have some sort of response — potentially with some new information — which you should take into consideration. Based on how the conversation goes, you will likely then discuss ways to modify the observed behavior in the future. Also, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that the person might not be aware of or fully understand the impact their actions had and so might need more of an explanation. Likewise, if they understand the impact immediatly, then going on to discuss ways to modify the behavior would likely be overkill and could be perceived as condescending.
So from the top, an SBI conversation might go something like this between Sarah and Jim:
Sarah: Hi Jim, could I talk to you for a sec?
Jim: Sure thing, what’s up?
Sarah: This afternoon when we were in the logistics meeting together I noticed you made a few sarcastic comments with regard to the drivers and I’m concerned that this will negatively impact our already strained relationship with the department – something that I’ve been working to improve. What are your thoughts on this?
Jim: Well, I have been pretty frustrated with their performance and I could see how that might have come out in what I said during the meeting.
[I’ll try to be more diplomatic in the future, and I’ll be sure to check in with those people I may have offended to offer an apology.]
[If Jim doesn’t appear to recognize the impact of his actios, Sarah might go a step further with the following…]
Sarah: I understand where you’re coming from, and I share some of your frustration, but moving forward I’d appreciate it if we tried to be as diplomatic as possible. It’s important that we mend things with Logistics to move forward productively. Can you work on that in future meetings?
Jim: Sure, I’ll try to keep myself in check.
Now obviously, this is an idealized conversation that worked out perfectly, and not all conversations go this smoothly. But the point of SBI is to allow you to get to initiate the feedback conversation in a way that as simple and straightforward as possible. Sarah didn’t tell Jim he was being a jerk, she focused on a specific behavior – the sarcastic comments – and then talked about how it impacted her and her work. This assures that Jim doesn’t get as defensive as he might have with more broad language.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the SBI model is just as effective for giving positive feedback – something that is woefully lacking in many workplaces. Just insert a positive behavior and impact, and you’ve got a great template for praising employees. Hopefully the SBI framework can help you improve your ability to give feedback effectively at work.
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