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  • Writer's pictureMaria Wade

The Power of Effective Feedback: Using the SBI Approach

Updated: Jun 6

Feedback is a powerful tool for growth, yet it's often approached with hesitation and uncertainty. This month, I'd like to delve into the intricacies of feedback, shedding light on its dual nature - both giving and receiving. But first, let me share a conversation that highlights the challenges many leaders face:

Coach: What accountability system do you use with your team?

Leader: Honestly, I'm not sure it's an effective one. 
I hate yelling at people.

This response isn't unusual. Many leaders grapple with the challenge of seeking accountability and delivering feedback. Feedback has long been associated with confrontation, and the mere idea of it makes most people uneasy. Today, let's tackle this misconception head-on and delve deeper into the art and science of feedback.

Feedback: A Conversation, Not a Confrontation

It's a shared belief: every time we offer feedback, we risk jeopardizing our relationships. But should feedback always be linked to potential conflict? My perspective is no. It's essential to distinguish between performance-centric discussions and conversations that might harm relationships. Feedback, when done correctly, can be a constructive tool, nurturing growth and promoting understanding.

Enter the SBI Feedback Method

The Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) approach to feedback has been a game-changer for many, including myself. Why? Because it structures feedback in a way that is clear, factual, and devoid of emotional baggage.

  • Situation: Specifies when and where a particular behavior occurred.

  • Behavior: Describes the observable action in question.

  • Impact: Explains how the behavior had a real or potential effect, be it on individuals, team dynamics, or even broader business results.

By adhering to this method, we steer clear of assumptions, avoid casting aspersions on intentions, and refrain from speculating about motivations. Instead, the focus remains solely on observable behaviors and their outcomes.

Receiving Feedback through the SBI Lens

While the SBI approach is invaluable when giving feedback, it's equally transformative when on the receiving end. Let's explore this through a real-life dialogue:

Coach: What continues to be an area of development in interpersonal 
communication for Mike?

Manager: Mike's communication has improved significantly during the 
last few months. However, he can still come off as abrasive, 
especially when he's convinced he's right.

Coach: Can you recall the most recent occasion when you observed 
this type of communication?

Manager: It's hard to pinpoint. Perhaps a few months ago...

Coach: Are we considering behavior from a period outside our 
current focus?

Manager: Yes, probably...

This interaction underscores a common challenge: feedback that lacks specificity. In such cases, it's crucial to seek clarity. Facts anchor feedback, making it actionable and relevant. Without clear context (Event, Place, Behavior), and understanding the Real or Potential Impact, feedback can become a vague cloud of assumptions.

Feedback, whether giving or receiving, need not be a dreaded process. By employing the SBI approach and rooting our observations in facts, we can make feedback an enriching experience, fostering growth and fostering genuine understanding.

For those keen on delving deeper, numerous studies and research pieces elaborate on the science and effectiveness behind the SBI method. But for now, let this serve as an introduction to a tool that might just redefine your approach to feedback.

Stay tuned for more insights and strategies to navigate the intricate realm of leadership and personal growth. Feedback is an art, and like all arts, it requires practice, understanding, and the right tools.

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