Giving feedback

Feedback is a comment or communication about something someone has done.

It is often a mixture of an objective statement (“You exceeded your target …”) and a more subjective observation or assessment (“ … which gave the team a big boost”).

Good feedback focuses on behaviour or actions, which others can see and the individual can do something about, not on people’s intentions - which others cannot see and can only guess at. For example “When you stood with your arms folded across your chest I felt anxious” is OK (a mixture of observed actions and your own response to them), whereas “You were very angry” isn’t (you don’t know directly what the other person was feeling, even if your guess is right).

Feedback should be specific, not vague, and is best given as near to the time the behaviour happened as possible.

Why is it important?

Regular, accurate and fair feedback is exceptionally important to people. A common finding is that managers think they give regular feedback but the managed feel they don’t receive enough. Research evidence shows us that the right kind of feedback improves performance significantly. The wrong kind can actually make matters worse.

If your aim is to influence someone’s behaviour in the future, you need to focus on specific behaviour or actions that people can actually do something about.

 

The Situation-Behaviour-Impact (SBI) framework

A particularly helpful framework for feedback has been developed by the Center for Creative Leadership . The ‘Situation – Behaviour – Insight’ framework. Good feedback should describe:

  1. The situation and context of the observed behaviour. This helps to anchor the feedback in time and place. The more specific this is the better.
  2. Observable behaviour – the recipient’s specific actions, without interpretation or evaluation, so that the recipient knows exactly what is being referred to.
  3. Feelings and thoughts that the feedback giver had about the impact - how people were observed to behave as a result of the feedback receiver’s behaviour

“The report you turned in yesterday (situation) was well written, concise and described the financial position very well very well. It enabled us to discuss the options well….” is helpful feedback.

“You have been doing a grand job over the last few months” is nice, but not as helpful. “You’re consistently under-performing” is not only poor feedback but, the evidence suggests, will likely lead to poorer performance in the future.

If you are giving feedback to someone as part of your managerial or supervisory role, you may want to help people find tangible, immediate solutions to specific challenges they are facing. In this case, the SBI model has an additional step:

  1. Suggest alternative behaviour that may result in improved outcomes
  2. Describe the alternative impact that you would expect from this new behaviour

Continuing the previous example, “If you had been able to include more detail of the options customers prefer (alternative behaviour) we could probably have made the final decision there and then at the meeting (alternative impact)” would be a helpful way to coach this report writer for the future.

If steps 4 and 5 are included, the model is sometimes known as the SBI-BI model.

Feedback in a team setting

As a general rule positive and fair feedback are OK in a team setting, but negative feedback is better handled one-to-one.

Being able to give and receive constructive feedback in a team setting is called team accountability and is the mark of excellent team dynamics. Personal criticism, shouting at each other and name-calling is not constructive feedback. It is destructive and the mark of poor team dynamics.