The Best Way to Give Feedback—SBI Model
You know that terrible noise a microphone makes when it gets too close to the signal receiver? That’s called feedback. Sometimes when we try to give feedback or receive it the experience can be just as terrible as that sound coming from a screeching microphone— but it doesn’t have to be that way.
A productive and honest process to give feedback is crucial for any successful high-performing team. Yes, it can be intimidating to initiate feedback as a leader, but remember there is no growth in a comfort zone. We can only improve when we stretch ourselves outside of what is comfortable and safe. It’s time to start giving your team feedback that will make a positive impact.
When it comes time to give feedback, one of the best frameworks you can use to have these conversations is an approach introduced by the Center for Creative Leadership, the Situation-Behavior-Impact or SBI Model.
What is the SBI model?
SBI lays out three clear steps to make the most of any conversation where you need to give feedback. It works best when you have a specific event or project you want to discuss.
Situation: Explain the situation. Be as specific as possible. Describe when and where it happened.
Behavior: Express how you perceived the other person’s behavior or actions. Don’t assume you know their intent.
Impact: Communicate how the other person’s behavior or actions affected you. Talk about your thoughts or feelings in that moment.
As a manager or a young leader, clear communication is essential to you and your team’s success. You need your team to trust and respect you and by providing open honest constructive feedback you’ll continue building that trust. Using SBI will help you solve problems by focusing on the action and not the individual. Let’s see the SBI model in action.
A Good Example Using the SBI Model
Let’s look at an example of the right way to utilize the SBI model and give feedback.
In this example, a young manager, Anna, needs to confront an older team member, Jacob. Anna is new to the company; while Jacob has been working there for the last 15 years. Anna is worried about how her feedback will be taken by Jacob as a young leader in the organization, but she knows she needs to have this conversation.
Situation: Before she has the meeting, she writes down some notes and practices what she wants to say to herself. Anna schedules a one on one meeting with Jacob in a private conference room. She doesn’t want to confront him in front of the group. She explains the situation she wants to discuss using specific details. “Jacob, Tuesday we had a meeting about the new schedule I made for the team.”
Behavior: She continues calling out the behavior she witnessed. She expresses how she perceived the behavior, but not Jacob’s intentions. “After the meeting, in the break room, I heard you saying how unhappy you were with the new schedule I created in front of our whole team.”
Impact: Using “I” statements, she communicates how Jacob’s behavior affected her. “I felt put down by your comments. I am worried your thoughts will influence how the team responds to my leadership.” Anna asks Jacob to think about the feedback and schedules a follow up meeting to talk about how they can improve their communication in the future.
What did Anna do well in this scenario? Here are the five things that Anna did successfully to navigate the situation.
- Scheduling a one on one. Feedback should never be given in front of the group. Be sure to keep meetings about feedback private. Anna kept the tension down by pulling Jacob aside.
- Citing specific facts. Be as specific as possible about the behavior or action. Don’t attack the person. Anna set the scene and stuck to the facts. Jacob had no way to deny what she was saying.
- Use statements that begin with “I” when communicating the impact. “I felt…” “I was upset…” etc. By keeping her feelings the focus of the conversation Anna isn’t attacking Jacob as a person.
- Scheduling a follow-up meeting. Don’t discuss the feedback right away. Ask the person to take time to think about it. Jacob now has the opportunity to decide how he wants to respond.
- Practice what you are going to say before you go into the meeting and anticipate what the other person might say in response. Anna’s preparation paid off. She remained calm, cool, and collected.
The Bad Example
Now let’s look at a poor example. Feedback is a touchy subject. There’s a lot that can go wrong.
Stephen is a new manager at a nonprofit organization. He is having trouble changing old policies and bringing the team together under a new vision. He’s not sure exactly who to confront, but he’s very frustrated his new strategies aren’t being implemented faster.
Situation: At their weekly team meeting with all 15 team members, he says he has a matter to discuss before the scheduled agenda items. In a rush of emotion, all his pent-up feelings come out at once. He yells at the team, taking a tone. “We’re moving too slowly. Nothing is happening here. What is the problem, guys?”
Behavior: In the heat of the moment, he can’t think of any specific actions to address. He starts calling out individuals. “Cary, your fundraising numbers are down. You’re not doing anything I told you.” “Damon, none of the social media pages are getting any more engagement. What is your issue?”
Impact: Stephen begins to explain his feelings, but instead of focusing on himself, he puts the blame on his team. “I’m not performing because of all of you. Your output reflects my input. You all have to do better. Currently, no one is meeting the level of performance I need to see.”
What went wrong here? Here are 5 things Stephen needs to improve.
- Never react in the moment. Take time to cool down and think through the feedback you want to deliver. Stephen should have practiced his feedback before the meeting.
- Even if there is a problem with an entire team, feedback is not delivered most effectively in front of the group. Always give feedback one on one. Stephen should have called employees into private meetings.
- Stay analytical. Don’t bring the person into action. This starts to feel like judgment instead of feedback. By calling people out in an aggressive manner, Stephen deepened the issues on his team.
- Discuss how you perceived a specific action. Don’t bring the person or team into it with generalizations. Stephen was incapable of describing his feelings solely with “I” statements. He confused giving feedback with expressing frustration.
- Remember that as a manager, you could be the problem too. Don’t assume you are beyond reproach. The need to give feedback goes both ways. Stephen needed to be open to thoughts from his team.
The biggest challenge any new manager or young leader can face is gaining the credibility and respect of their team. If you ignore problems in your team and sweep them under the rug because of your fear of confrontation, your team will suffer. Using the SBI model as a tool can help make these conversations much more manageable.
By setting an example for your team and showing that feedback will be a serious and consistent part of your dynamic, you demonstrate that you are invested in their development. This isn’t easy stuff, but practice makes perfect. With time, the SBI model can be an effective tool in your toolbox. If you follow it and take the time to get to know your team, everyone will be more successful in the end.