Framing Feedback: The Situation-Behavior-Impact Tool

The more specific you can be with your feedback, the more useful your team members will find it and the more likely you are to see a positive impact.

Team member discussion

Getting Specific with Feedback

Did you ever give a team member feedback and wonder why it didn’t seem to sink in? Or have you ever wanted to improve your feedback by making it more clear and concise?

The key to giving a team member useful feedback is making it meaningful and actionable. When you see room for improvement, telling someone they can do better is too ambiguous. And telling someone they did a good job is nice—but will they know how to improve even further? People who get vague feedback may not know what you observed to come to your conclusion. They may not know what aspect of their actions could be better. Or, they may be unaware of the outcome of their actions.

Meaningful feedback is feedback that is crystal clear. It is understandable to the recipient. Actionable feedback is feedback that gives the recipient something concrete they can do to improve their performance or build on their successes. In order to be meaningful and actionable, feedback must be specific. This is where the Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) tool, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, comes into play:

  1. Situation: Describe where and when the behavior you’re targeting took place.
  2. Behavior: Describe the specific behavior you directly observed. Do not make assumptions about what happened before or after the specific behavior you’re seeking to address.
  3. Impact: Describe the effect the targeted behavior had on you or others.

Applying the SBI Tool

Before jumping into the SBI tool, it’s important to remember the following about what feedback is and isn’t: feedback is different from criticism or praise. Feedback is based on direct observation. Feedback is timely and specific. Feedback is descriptive, and nonjudgmental.

You ask permission to give feedback before launching in. This frames the conversation and clues the person into what is about to take place. It also gives them the opportunity to say that they are not prepared to accept feedback at the moment, but would be open to it at another time. Seeking permission can be as informal as saying, “Can I offer you some feedback?”

Now, on to the three components of the SBI tool.

Situation

When using the SBI tool, you want to give your feedback context. That is, you want to describe the “where” and the “when” with specificity. For example:

  • “In this afternoon’s meeting, when you presented this year’s sales figures…”
  • “This past Tuesday, during your presentation to the Board…”

This places the person in time and space, making it easier for them to recall what it is you are responding to.

Behavior

When using the SBI tool, you want to be specific about what it is the person did or did not do in the situation that was either useful or in need of improvement. Let’s build on the examples above and add some behavior language:

  • “In this afternoon’s meeting, when you presented this year’s sales figures… you very succinctly summarized the previous year’s figures using a bar graph.”
  • “This past Tuesday, during your presentation to the Board… you misattributed the production of the annual report to Stacy when Jennifer was the team member responsible for that report.”

The behavior piece is one of the most difficult parts of giving SBI feedback because you want to base your feedback on what you directly observed, not on behavior others have described to you or on assumptions you have made about what might have taken place before or after the situation you’re commenting on.

Impact

The last piece of the SBI tool is describing the effect the targeted behavior had on you or others. Ideally, these are phrased as ‘I’ statements that detail the emotional impact of the person’s behavior. For example:

  • “In this afternoon’s meeting, when you presented this year’s sales figures, you very succinctly compared them against the previous year’s figures using a bar graph… I was extremely impressed with how easily understood the figures became when presented in that manner. I feel certain our team walked away from the meeting with a clearer understanding because of your presentation.”
  • “This past Tuesday, during your presentation to the Board, you misattributed the production of the annual report to Stacy when Jennifer was the team member responsible for that report… I’m concerned that Jennifer felt slighted by the mistake and that she will not get proper recognition from the Board because of it.”

Once you have given your feedback, you want to give the team member time to absorb it, allow them to ask questions for clarification, or offer encouragement for the future.

Takeaway

So, when giving feedback, always remember to use the SBI tool:

  • Situation: Describe the where and when of the targeted behavior.
  • Behavior: Describe the specific behavior you directly observed. Do not make assumptions.
  • Impact: Describe the effect the targeted behavior had on you or others.

By using the SBI tool, you can provide more meaningful, actionable, and thus more effective feedback to your team members. Remember, specificity is the key. The more specific you can be with your feedback, the more useful your team members will find it and the more likely you are to see a positive impact.

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