We the Partnership

Providing feedback is critical to your employees’ personal and professional growth. Here’s how to do it well.

By Parker Schaffel
December 8, 2020 | Updated on December 21, 2020

Glenn Gaffney, the former associate director of CIA for Talent, once said, “When you choose management, you choose people.” The larger conversation was about feedback, and how we, as an agency, were severely lacking in providing actionable, ongoing feedback.

Everyone in the room agreed: giving and receiving feedback was the best way to further encourage good performance, correct poor performance and enable personal and professional growth. But managers and supervisors weren’t doing it. Why not?

The reason is simple:

Giving constructive feedback is difficult, especially when it involves telling direct reports that they’ve done something incorrectly that negatively impacted the team.

Fortunately, a commonly used tool—the Situation-Behavior-Impact model—can help you provide more actionable and continuous feedback to your employees and co-workers.

The model—taught widely across the CIA—requires supervisors to describe situations, behaviors and the impact of one’s actions using factual information and specific language.

Situation: Using a specific date, time and place, describe the situation in which the action occurred. This helps people receiving feedback recall their behavior.

“John, yesterday during the team meeting…”

Behavior: Using actions you observed, describe what you saw and heard. Stick to observable actions and neveruse judgment words.

“…you started speaking when Mary was already talking…”

Impact: Assess what happened and explain how you feel about the situation.

“…and I feel that was disrespectful to Mary and might make her less willing to speak up in future meetings.”

Here is the SBI statement all together.

“John, yesterday during the team meeting, you started speaking when Mary was already talking, and I feel that was disrespectful to Mary and might make her less willing to speak up in future meetings.”

Note that you should initiate this conversation as close to the action as possible so the person receiving your feedback will remember the specific situation.

Receiving critical feedback

When someone gives you feedback, respond at first by saying “Thank you very much.” This can be difficult, but it shows humility, self-awareness and respect for your co-workers.

The next step: an evolving conversation

After thanking the feedback provider, continue the conversation. Using the example above, John might say:

“Thank you very much. I certainly didn’t intend to disrespect Mary. I just thought I had a great point to add and wanted to ensure I got it out there. I thought Mary was done speaking, so I chimed in.”

From there, the feedback provider might offer guidance on how John should conduct himself in the future:

“In the future, perhaps you could consider writing down your thoughts (so you don’t forget them) and making sure that others are done speaking before you respond.”

At this point, John has actionable feedback he can use moving forward.

Making a choice

In our scenario, John has two choices: to continue speaking at the same time as Mary or to wait his turn. The latter choice is better for John’s career and his role on the team. This type of structured feedback enables John to make the correct choice, and demonstrate personal and professional growth.

It’s not easy. That’s why you have to practice.

Giving and receiving feedback can be difficult, but you can try different practice exercises to make it easier.

If you are a feedback provider, consider writing down the feedback you want to provide before initiating a conversation. Refine your statement to ensure that you’re sticking to the facts and practice delivering the feedback in front of a mirror, or to a supervisor or mentor.

If you are receiving feedback, practice saying “Thank you. I didn’t recognize that. I appreciate you sharing that with me.” Say these words before receiving feedback. The more you practice them, the better you will respond in the moment.

Finally, remember noble intent

Whenever anyone offers you feedback, remember to assume noble intent—the person is trying to help. This will help you keep an open mind, accept feedback and use it to your benefit.

Visit the Public Service Leadership Model to learn about leadership concepts like this.


Parker Schaffel