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How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback can be a huge gift, but at times it can feel scary or useless pointless. Here are some tips for providing impactful feedback that creates change.

Formulate your message using SBI + Intent

S = Situation: When, where, and with whom did the behavior occur

B = Behavior: What the person did

I = Impact: What impact it had on you

Intent = Inquire what they were trying to achieve

Example: George, during our team meeting on Tuesday when Rachel was describing the brand and design strategies (situation), you kept interrupting every couple of minutes to ask questions (behavior). I felt increasingly angry and distracted because I felt you didn't trust and respect Rachel (impact). What was driving you to interrupt (intent)?

Giving Feedback

What do you want to change

As you are asking for specific changes to the behavior make sure your ask is specific, actionable, and future focused.

Deliver feedback with empathy and kindness without lowering standards

Yes, this is possible. The key is to recognize that the other person is a person, not a robot. They have feelings and will not always be perfect. And what you are requesting is reasonable and necessary for them to succeed in their role.

Example 1: I understand how it can be challenging to remember your questions. (kindness) As others are presenting, I find it helpful to jot down my questions so I don't forget them. I check them off if they get answered, so I know what to ask when the person stops talking. (education and expectation)

Example 2: Susan, when you were presenting the operating strategy to the senior leadership team (situation), you went into a lot of detail about how to implement each element of the strategy (behavior). I noticed several of the leaders becoming impatient and there was little time for discussion. (Impact)

This way of presenting is common as people are promoted into your role. Your success in the past was driven by mastery of the details. (Kindness and empathy) Senior leaders have such broad knowledge that they add value by discussing and questioning the high level strategy. Try focusing your presentation on gaining alignment on the overall strategy and being prepared to answer questions about the implementation if you are asked about it. (Education and expectation)

What's the purpose of the feedback

Summative = to measure progress over time. Performance review, final exam, etc. This is usually written and verbal so documentation exists.

Formative = to help the individual develop the skill. This is much more frequent, ideally provided very soon after observing the behavior. This can be for ad hoc incidents and formal development plan items. The key is the focus on what would help the individual develop this skill most effectively.

Time your feedback

Give feedback the first time you see the behavior. The more the behavior is repeated, the harder it will be to change. Also, the more damage it will do to the person's reputation and your relationship. Here's an article that explains this:

Be specific so the person can almost relive the behavior

This is one reason why SBI+ Intent is so powerful. When a person relives the memory, (without becoming overly stressed), the memory becomes more malleable. The feedback and new information can become associated with that memory, making the possibility of change greater.

Deliver feedback verbally or in writing?

If the feedback is constructive and challenging, it's generally best to give it verbally and in private, at least the first time it's given. The conversation can be followed up with a recap email or message if it would create more benefits (reminder of agreements) than drawbacks (embarrassment, undue paper trail).

If the feedback is about developing a job skill, it may require multiple steps or opportunities to practice it in order to acquire the skill. Here a combination of verbal and written documentation can be useful to show clear progression over time.

Consider the escalation path. Some behaviors are so unacceptable that documentation is necessary in case the behavior doesn't change. If there is an HR process for documentation, consider using it.

Follow up

After feedback is given, follow-up to share what change or lack of change you are observing. This conveys that the behavior is important and that you value the effort the person is putting in to make the change.

If a development plan is put into place, add milestones and check points so providing feedback doesn't get lost in the shuffle of daily work. Consider having the individual share their view of their progress before you share yours.

Public or private feedback and follow-up

If the feedback, positive or negative, has to potential to embarrass the person, deliver it in private and verbally. If it will not embarrass the person and you see growth or demonstration of a behavior you want to reinforce with others, it can be helpful to give a public acknowledgement.

Example: I appreciate how efficiently (impact) this meeting ran (situation) because everyone was allowed to finish their thoughts before others shared their thoughts or questions (behavior).

Write it out and practice

As with any new skill, it can take some planning and practice to master this. Think about who you want to give feedback to. What do you want to convey and why? Go through this post and plan your communication. Practice it and edit it until it feels good. Then challenge yourself to deliver it.


Give yourself permission to be a learner. After delivering the feedback ask yourself what went well? What didn't go well? What would I do differently next time?

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