Taking the sting out of feedback

The leadership freak (Dan Rockwell) asks an insightful question in his post about feedback,

why are we right when we give feedback and others are wrong when they give us feedback?

I jotted down some ideas about receiving feedback in a post last year. It is hard to really accept feedback that is at odds with how we see ourselves.

More than that, for feedback to work, a number of challenges have to be overcome. Initially the person wanting to give feedback needs to be brave enough to tell us something that we probably would prefer not to hear. Once that hurdle is overcome, the method of delivering the feedback can scupper it before it is even delivered. Feedback that gets our back up is unlikely to be accepted. And lastly as the receiver of feedback, unless we are open minded, we will likely reject feedback unless it is delivered in just the right way.

So how can we give effective feedback that doesn’t sting?

The Centre for Creative Leadership has a very practical method for giving feedback which they call S-B-I (SituationBehaviour Impact) model.

Situation provides context, when did something happen or what was going at that time so that the person receiving feedback can locate what you are giving them feedback on.

The best way to think about behaviour is how would we describe what we saw if we were watching a video of what had happened. No interpretation, no judgements, just describing what the camera would have seen.

And impact is just about me (the person giving the feedback). What impact has the behaviour had on me. Not anybody else (even if we are sure that everyone saw it like we did). Mostly, we can only truthfully speak for ourselves.

Here is an example to show how it works.

I arrive at a meeting and my colleague Eric arrives 15 minutes late and proceeds to do a good presentation on the new sales strategy. When concluding the last few minutes are a bit vague and there are no clear next steps.

Using the S-B-I model for feedback, I would give Eric feedback as follows:

  • Situation: At the start of the meeting when we were ready to begin
  • Behaviour: You were the only person who wasn’t in the room (this is what the camera would show if we had taken a video)
  • Impact (on me): I thought you were disrespectful of our time
  • Situation: 10 minutes into your presentation
  • Behaviour: You explained each of your three scenarios with a diagram and a short summary (again – nothing to dispute – just a picture or video of what was shown)
  • Impact (on me): I understood exactly what you proposed. I was impressed with your preparation and how much thought you had put into your ideas
  • Situation: The last 5 minutes of your presentation
  • Behaviour: You reiterated the scenarios. There was no next steps slide
  • Impact (on me): I was left wondering what you wanted us to change and how we would take your ideas forward
  • Situation: During question time
  • Behaviour: You smiled at each person when they had finished asking their question and after your answer you asked them if you had answered their question (the camera would have confirmed this)
  • Impact (on me): I saw you as being comfortable to be challenged, respectful in how you answered questions and caring that you had provided an understandable answer

While we are always tempted to generalise feedback we can only really talk about the impact on ourselves. We might think that everyone would respond the same way or all reasonable people would respond in the same way but this is not true.

An equally valid SBI could come from someone else who was at the presentation.

  • Situation: During question time
  • Behaviour: You smiled at each person when they had finished asking their question and after your answer you asked them if you had answered their question
  • Impact (on me): I found you too sure of yourself and too over confident. I would have liked you to just answer the questions with less theatrical smiles and what I interpreted to be an insincere thank you.

There are a couple of key things that make the S-B-I model work very well.

  1. Feedback is about behaviour – what the camera saw
  2. The person giving feedback owns how the behaviour impacted them
  3. While judgements of behaviour can be included, they need to be owned by the person making them
  4. Behaviour may have a different impact on different people
  5. No ‘advice’ is given for how a person should change their behaviour
  6. The person receiving feedback is left to decide for themselves what to do with the feedback

My experience is that S-B-I feedback requires practice. It is all to easy to slip into old habits and give ineffective feedback. Dan Rockwell’s article provides some additional useful do’s and don’ts on feedback.

CCL provide an example card that you can download. It includes a description, some examples and space to write your S-B-I feedback.

Taking the sting out of feedback

Image source: http://cdale.me/1zdYITu


Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Underneath all relationships lurks this phenomena called values.

Early in relationships they are easy to align because our description of values is often simple. We describe values using words such as honesty, integrity or respect.

All people agree on these values. Don’t they?

But real values come into play when relationships mature. True colours emerge. The harsh reality of what is really valued, emerges. 

How honest?

Always honest?

Where are exact boundaries between honest and dishonest?

The questions get a little trickier.

Or respect? Respect for who? Where is the tradeoff between respect for myself and respect for others? Respect despite the circumstances? Real respect? The way I understand respect?

It is only when placed under pressure that our true values emerge.

And when they do emerge they either confirm the strength of the relationship or they highlight the void.

True values only emerge over time








Image source: http://cdale.me/1fRb6Bo

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leadership beyond Nelson Mandela

In today’s Sunday Times, former President Thabo Mbeki called on South African’s to reflect on Madiba’s values. “Mandela’s memory would be best honoured if South Africans assessed whether the country was living up to the icon’s vision of a non-racial society”, he said.  

This is a noble thought and worth reflecting on. I think it is more useful though to think about what we could do personally. Real change always start at home.

We can do this by considering what Madiba would do in the situations we find ourselves in daily.

Finding our own inner Madiba would go a long way to providing us with a tangible and very symbolic moral compass. As with Mandela, leadership like this can go a long way.  

This would also be more in line with how Mandela saw himself, as described in his autobiography, “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

The extraordinary circumstances of today are the perception of widespread corruption in government leading all the way to the door of the president. 

With Madiba now belonging, as Barack Obama described, to the ages, is there someone living who can hold the moral authority which he has vacated?

There are plenty of people shouting from the sidelines about corruption. Most are however, safely ensconced in the ranks of the opposition parties or deep within the political setup such as COSATU. Their cries are expected and seldom with any consequence for themselves or others.

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the public protector, has on the other hand many potential consequences in her quest for the truth. She has in recent weeks shown many characteristics of a true leader. She has been resolute, brave and principled. Unwavering despite the numerous attempts that have been made to discredit her and her organisation’s work. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his obituary to Madiba had mostly glowing praise for his friend and colleague. “People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others”, he said.

The only fault he could identify was Madiba’s tolerance of mediocrity which he said, “arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.”

Perhaps in Madonsela we are seeing the emergence of a new leader of significance in South Africa. Although a completely different person, she appears to be guided by her own inner Mandela.

As Mandela, she has a stubborn disregard for anything that attempts to distract her from her role of being the public protector and seeking the truth that benefits the people of South Africa. 

Is Thuli Mandonsela the new Madela





Image source: http://goo.gl/q6k9NS and http://goo.gl/bJuvD5

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When listening to customers doesn’t work

The customer is not always right.

If we listened to all customers and they were all correct all the time then what we had to offer would be watered down to the lowest common denominator and would be worthless.

The other aspect of customer relationships that we sometimes get wrong is working for people who haven’t yet paid.

Customers by definition only become customers once they have agreed to exchange money for what we have to offer.

Letters of intent don’t pay the rent (thanks David McWilliam 1999).

People and companies who threaten to be customers by making promises which they do not follow through on, do not deserve to be treated as customers.

The same goes for those who were once customers but stopped paying. 

These are two cases where listening to customers doesn’t work. 

Save your uniqueness for the customers who appreciate it.

If you are running around hoping that your customers one day miraculously turn into well paying and supportive advocates for your work, something which has not happened to date, then you are possibly in an abusive relationship. 


Customers by definition only become customers once they have agreed to exchange money for what we have to offer. 











Image source: http://bit.ly/HXkLHF


Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Taking the noise out of situations

Some people add to the noise and some people reduce the noise. 

I think this is one the most endearing attributes of the people we work with. In a noisy world with many dramas, near misses and stress, the people who can remove some or all of the noise are significantly valuable. 

And the question we have to ask ourselves is, are we adding or subtracting from the noise?

Taking the noise out of situations










Image source: http://bit.ly/17BatXN

Technorati Tags: , ,

All time is not created equal

“Time flies”, may be one of the most cliched sayings we use.

My physiotherapist on a visit this afternoon said, “I can’t believe it is already October.”

My father regularly shakes his head in dismay that another year has passed. 

I remember my childhood friend Carol asking her mother, ‘Which corner?’ after being told that Christmas was just around the corner. Everyone laughed at the naivety of a child thinking about time in a way different to months, weeks, hours and minutes. 

But is it really naive? Is time really fixed or can we think about time in ways other than what the clock tells us?

Here are some challenging thoughts about time:

  • Why do some events feel like they have flown past while others last an eternity even though they have taken similar amounts of time?
  • How come when we really decide to do something like go to gym regularly, the time opens up and we manage it even though it felt impossible before?
  • Why do tax returns take longer to fill out than visa applications for a desired holiday?
  • Why does the first day away on holiday feel so timeless and the last day before we leave feel so lacking in enough time?
  • Does time really go slower when we are anxiously awaiting something? 
  • Or more specifically, does a watched kettle really never boil? 

Author Bondil Jonsson observes how the arrival of measured, accurate timekeeping became first our tool, and then our master.

As with everything we all have a relationship with time. Some are better than others. Is time our friend or our enemy? 

Can time be used masterfully? For many business people, the constraint of time drives us to achieve more in less. Conversely creating open space, time with no expectations, allows creativity to be fuelled. 

With time maybe it is a case of friends close and enemies closer?

Time can be our friend or our enemy
















Image source: http://bit.ly/17CLG0G

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Receiving feedback

Despite it seldom being very constructive we do get feedback all the time.

It may be the rejection of our proposal or the pat on the back for a job well done.

It’s worth thinking how best to receive feedback so that it is useful.

The first critical rule is to simply say thank you, whether the feedback is good or bad.

We may ask for some more clarity. If however we feel the need to explain why it is like it is, justifying the feedback that we have just received, then alarm bells should go off in our head.

This is a road to nowhere. Firstly because the person giving the feedback seldom cares and secondly because it activates our own biases to protect us from what is really going on. Thirdly, a poor reaction to feedback will guarantee we don’t get further feedback from that person. 

If the feedback elicits an emotional response (anger, fury, a warm glow), then even more reason to do nothing with it until some time has passed. Once the emotion has calmed, then a few further questions are useful:

  • How do I interpret this feedback?
  • Does it confirm any other feedback or hunches I have about how I am doing?
  • Why did this person give me this feedback now?
  • What agenda, if any, does the person giving me feedback have?
  • Are there things I should be doing differently as a result of this feedback?

Feedback is a gift. Receive it as such. 

Feedback is a gift.








Image source: http://bit.ly/15HJ2qF

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,


When we look at our life backwards, we get a unique perspective.

Looking at another person’s life backwards can be inspirational.

The question is will our legacy be an inspiration for those people who know us?  

I thought of this when I read about Hiroshi Yamauchi, the long-time leader of Nintendo and an icon of Japan’s video game industry who passed away last week at the age of 85. Having transformed the company from a small card manufacturing business into a global gaming giant, it is tempting to think that his legacy is bigger than the average person.

The truth is our legacy counts more for those who we personally touch during our lives, than those who indirectly benefit from our work. This is why it is important to pay attention to each of our important relationships.

Our legacy is built one relationship at a time. Sure the people we touch indirectly count, but not as much as the people with whom we have true connection.

Perhaps our real legacy is the people who show up at our funeral and have something to say.

Our legacy can be measured by our connections







Image source: http://bit.ly/16yyB82

Technorati Tags: , , ,


When giving feedback we often believe we need to tell someone else how they should correct something or compliment them on doing something well. 

In business, feedback is often another way of saying, ‘let me tell you how you can do that better‘. 

Sometimes this is useful, but mostly it at best misses the point, and at worst raises defences preventing any change in behaviour.

When we take this approach we are sharing our judgement of a person’s behaviour, often mixed in with some advice. 

  • “What you need to do is practice your presentation skills.”
  • “I think you did a wonderful sales presentation.”
  • “You didn’t really make an impact in that meeting.”

A better way to give feedback is to be a mirror for the person. If we could see ourselves in the mirror, we could make our own mind up as to what we are going to change, if anything.

Getting feedback as if we are seeing ourselves, reduces the defensiveness which naturally arises when we are told that what we are doing should be done differently. Effective feedback done in this way is also the greatest gift we could give someone, allowing them to see for themselves how they are performing. 

If you are giving me feedback as I would see myself in the mirror or if you had a video camera rolling, then there is nowhere to hide. Stripped of judgements and advice, there is nothing to dispute or defend against. I get to look at myself and decide whether what I see is ok, or if it needs to change. 

The best feedback I ever got was a video of me on a presentation skills course in 1991. Watching the video permanently etched in my mind an image of what I looked like while presenting. It contains no advice nor judgement. To this day I carry that image with me whenever I walk into a public presentation. It informs how I present in many ways. 

So what does feedback delivered in this way look like using the same examples above?  

  • “In your presentation you looked at your notes twenty-seven times and the whole presentation was 10 minutes.”
  • “At the end of your presentation the CEO signed the order without asking a question.’
  • “You did not say anything other than hello and goodbye in that meeting.”

We need to ask ourselves why we want to give feedback? If it is to help a person improve themselves then the most effective way to do it is to allow them to see themselves through our feedback.

Mostly in business - feedback is another way of saying, 'let me tell you how you can do that better'.

Image source: http://bit.ly/17ZfGWL

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,