Situation — Behavior — Impact

A Tool for Effective Feedback

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Written by Product
Updated over a week ago

Giving feedback, especially critical feedback, can be challenging even for the most experienced managers and leaders.

Most people want to avoid conflict, strong emotions add complexity, and everyone gives and receives feedback, not based on what’s effective, but based on what they tend to prefer, which may not be consistent throughout a team.

As a manager, you are committing to help others improve and succeed. While some managers will fall into a routine of just giving positive or negative feedback (likely based on what they prefer to receive as well), it’s important that you be able to give consistent, clear, and quality feedback to your team—and not just on the results of their work, but on how they show up to the work as well. Giving recognition, encouraging others, and critiquing the quality or quantity of work are valuable tools that you need to use regularly.

The SBI Template

When you need to give feedback to someone, SBI is a simple template and thought process you can use to keep the communication simple, direct, and avoid making it a personal attack where trust is quickly lost.

  • Situation: Describe the situation where the observed behavior occurred.

  • Behavior: Describe the person’s behavior – physical, observable action.

  • Impact: Share with the person the impact of their behavior on you and others present.

What does it look like in practice? Here are two examples:

Example 1

  • Situation: John, earlier today we were holding our weekly team meeting.

  • Behavior: You came into the meeting 10 minutes after it started.

  • Impact: Since you had missed some important information at the beginning, we had to go back to get you up to speed which created some frustration among the team and caused us to lose valuable time in our weekly meeting.

Example 2

  • Situation: “Mack, today, during the meeting we had with the landowners.

  • Behavior: When you stood up and said there was no way in hell the Service would back down from its position and just accept that fact.

  • Impact: I was surprised and disappointed in your response. As you know, the meeting ended abruptly because it seemed no one was willing to re-engage in our discussion after that.

As the person providing the feedback, your goal isn’t to tell the person how to address the issue or to provide the fix. You are opening up a conversation. After you’ve given feedback through the SBI template, you can then either give them space to respond on their own or you can directly invite them to share their thoughts/feelings about this feedback, hopefully working toward changing the targeted behavior.

It may look simple, but mastering SBI will take time and practice. It’s a powerful and practical tool for three reasons:

  • It’s a template. It’s still wise to spend time thinking about the specific language you use (saying “your terrible idea” won’t work even with SBI). Having a three-step template creates a reliable process and eliminates complexity when trying to communicate clearly, especially when strong emotions might be involved.

  • It’s most effective when used immediately. Too much feedback gets swallowed up, either by not sharing it at all or by holding on to it too long before you share it. No one can read minds and everyone forgets details over time. Feedback loses relevance over time, too. Short-term feedback loops are where crucial conversations, mutual understanding, and change really happen.

  • You don’t have to make a compliment sandwich. You know the oft-used method for feedback: something nice, actual criticism you want to say, something else nice you probably made up. People read through that and you’ll lose credibility when you try to give sincere encouragement later. SBI is a direct way to give feedback without having to do a dance no one is going to buy anyway.

Questions to help you take your next steps with SBI:

  • Is there a conversation you need to have this week where SBI will be helpful?

  • What kinds of circumstances or relationships will this be most helpful for you?

  • What will get in the way of you using SBI regularly? How can you overcome this?

  • Who else might benefit from using the SBI framework for delivering effective feedback?

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