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

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Engaging (and the truth about hugs)

I’ve learned from my daughter that real engagement often happens at that moment when we want to disengage. 

This is that moment in a meeting when we stop listening and start thinking about what we want to say.

Sitting face to face with a customer who is telling us a story, we prepare our response before listening to the end. 

At the end of an engagement with a colleague we stand up and start moving away when there is a silence. It appears to be the end of the encounter, but is it?

What I learned from my daughter is that hanging on for another 30 seconds makes all the difference.

With her it is the end of a hug. I’ve learned not to be the first to pull away. It makes all the difference. Stay another few seconds. Be prepared to stay forever if need be.

That seldom happens but mostly some magic happens, if I just wait a little longer. 

Back in business, that thing your employee wanted to really say pops out if given the chance.

My colleague gives me the real feedback beyond the ‘nice’ safe comment they felt comfortable to say.

Our customer tells us what she really wants us to know.

Without giving it a little more time, real engagement is elusive. 


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Doubting our plans

Most things written by academics about strategy fall into the two broad categories of strategic planning and strategic execution.

It seems that the academics have not been speaking to people outside their institutions enough. 

John Lennon probably had a clearer view of how things really work when he sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Nobody sees the future like they believe they do. Ask Nassim Nicholas Taleb or Daniel Kahneman.

All we can do is hypothesise and test those hypotheses as Jim Clarke describes in his work on Business Plan You.

Doubting that our plan will work is the first step towards thinking about the future as it is likely to play out. 

Beyond planning and executing to testing hypothesise

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Values (2)

Values come in two forms.

The ones we talk about every day are our spoken values. These are the ones we normally reach for when asked, ‘what are your values?’.

The ones we live are our lived values.

The two are not always the same.

It is easy to talk about our values, it is harder to live them. Unless our values have been tested, we do not really know whether they are our values. 

If our values are intended as an inner compass, a guide for our lives, then they are worth a little more thought. Are my values aligned with my actions or are they but cheap talk?

We can test this easily enough by looking back at big decisions we have made in our lives and the values that have underpinned them.

Big decisions are easy to spot, they are the ones where something changed. A relationship started or stopped, a change in career direction, the start or end of an era in our lives or a shift in the strategy of our business. There are surely more examples. 

If the things we value come up as the consistent thread in these big decisions then our spoken values are aligned with our lived values.

If our values waiver with every decision, then perhaps we need to take a closer a look at what we consistently value.

Those are more likely to be our lived values, and the ones we should speak about. 

Are our spoken and our lived values aligned






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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








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Two ways forward

There are at least two ways to plan and get things done. 

One way is to plot.

That is breaking everything that needs to get done into smaller and smaller pieces and then manage your way towards the outcome. 

The other way is to be ready.

When opportunities arise grab them, when they don’t arise sit back and wait for opportunities to arise.

Both ways need you to know, at a high level, where you would like to get to.

The first so you can plot the steps and the second so that you know which opportunities to grab.

In 1998, author Richard Rumelt (Good Strategy / Bad Strategy) met with Steve Jobs and pointing out that having only one computer would consign Apple to a niche that they would never be able to escape from, Rummelt asked Jobs, ‘What is your long term strategy?’

Jobs didn’t attack his argument. Instead he smiled and said ‘I’m going to wait for the next big thing’

Steve Jobs - I'm going to wait for the next big thing













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Extreme emotions

There are times when something happens that sparks an unexpected emotion. These are not the usual mad, sad or glad – run of the mill type emotions that ebb and flow in our lives.

I am talking about the emotions that register high on the richter scale and leave us wondering what happened. I’m talking about extreme emotions.

When I am up close and in extreme emotions the world closes down. My options are limited and I am thinking about one or two options. This is different from easy feelings where I can play with the different aspects of a feeling. I can turn it around inside me and look at it from a number of perspectives.

It might be someone who does something that is hurtful and I don’t understand why. My ideas may be rejected by someone I love. Sometimes it may be waking up with the nagging worry that I cannot quite place.

The extreme feeling that arises throws me into a panic. Freeze, fight or flight. Are those the responses? That still sounds like a choice. When an extreme feeling arises I don’t feel like I have any choice. I am compelled to react.

The options are few when I am under the spell of an extreme emotion.

It is at times like these that I long for the space and time and perspective to examine the feeling from a number of different aspects.

Easy in theory. Hard in practice. But not impossible.

The options are few when I am under the spell of an extreme emotion.









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My manifesto on art and life

My life is the sum of what I have created and what I will create.

If we judge everything we do as creative, we set our own bar for what we put out into the world.

Rather than setting goals, step back and evaluate what I am creating and what do I want to create. Creation is more than goals.

Collaborate with others because life is more interesting creating with people.

And more complicated.

Borrow and lend freely.

Success is judged by others. 

When I judge it myself I am mostly wrong.

How much do I care what others think?

Comparing to others limits creativity. 

All that really matters is what is left behind when I am no longer here.

My manifesto on art and life








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Mandela: I want revenge but I want something more

There is a line in the movie Mandela, Long walk to freedom which struck for its honesty and insight. 

While still in prison and negotiating with his captors, at a point they say that he ‘surely wants revenge’. 

“I admit I want revenge”, he says, “but I want something more. I want to live without fear and hatred.”

Whether he actually said the words or they are a dramatisation created for the movie, the message is profound particularly when thinking about strategy. 

Mandela could have been caught in his emotions of hatred for what whites and apartheid had done to his people. He realised however that this would simply reverse roles. He said to his captors that if focused on revenge, then the end game would be him caught in the same prison that they were in.

An incredible insight. 

Like a good chess player, he had played out the scenarios and seen them clearer and further into the future than his enemy at the time.

Personally, by acknowledging his want for revenge and being able to put it aside, he was able to go after what he really desired, sustainable freedom for all South Africans.

He lifted the whole negotiation to a different level. 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela

“I admit I want revenge












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