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Struggling to give feedback? SBI can help

By Aditi Patil

Great leaders give effective and actionable feedback using the SBI model. SBI stands for situation, behavior and impact.

Using the SBI model helps to:

  1. Anchor your feedback in a situation.
  2. Share the observed behavior.
  3. Articulate the impact of that behavior.

Why does giving effective feedback matter for leaders? Because more than 50% of employees think that feedback is directly linked to performance, and yet they aren't receiving it.

Employees who receive feedback from their direct manager at least once per month experience higher feedback utility, which drives higher performance versus those who receive it less frequently.

How to land your message effectively

Set the stage

Have you ever wanted to give feedback and then paused because you didn't know how it would land? It's difficult to share criticism when you don't have a relationship with the individual involved. When working with a new team member, take the time to build trust and ask them, “How do you like receiving positive feedback? How do you like receiving developmental feedback?”

Share your intention

What's your reaction when someone says, “I have some feedback for you?” If you're like most people, you get worried. Our fight-or-flight response kicks in because we don't know what's coming. How do you calm that response?

Share your intentions. Our intentions aren't visible to others unless declared. For example, "My intention is to help you be more successful in managing the project meetings,” or “My intention is to help increase your influence in the organization.”

Make it timely

Memory is fleeting. Share the feedback in a timely way. I like to share it within a week of the situation so that it’s fresh in our minds. The later we share it, the fuzzier our memories are, and it could lessen the message’s impact.

Follow the SBI model

For delivering positive feedback

“Yesterday in the project kickoff meeting [specific situation], you started with an inspiring story and led the team through a structured agenda [observable behavior]. The team stayed engaged throughout the meeting and was excited to kickstart the project as was evidenced by the number of comments in the chat [impact].”

For delivering developmental feedback

“Yesterday in the project kickoff meeting [specific situation], you did not have a clear agenda for the meeting and started the meeting five minutes late [observable behavior]. The discussion strayed to many different topics, and there was no clear outcome of the meeting as was evidenced by the number of outstanding questions in the chat [impact].”

Share observable behaviors

We tend to mostly share our interpretations about behaviors. “You were rude,” (interpretation of behavior) versus “You slammed the door on your way out,” (observable behavior). “You did a great job facilitating the meeting,” (interpretation of the behavior) versus “You started and ended the meeting on time and ensured that each agenda item was addressed,” (observable behavior).

Always share observable behaviors.

Let the feedback land

Have you ever continued chatting after giving feedback? You're not alone. We tend to get nervous especially when giving critical feedback. This can manifest itself as nervous chatter. Resist the urge to add further explanations. Share the SBI and pause. Count to 10 or simply ask them, “What are your thoughts?” or “This is how I see it. Do you see it differently?”

How to use the SBI model when asking for feedback:

  • Mention the situation (“In the project kickoff meeting yesterday …”).
  • Share the behavior you'd like to give feedback on (“I started with the story of X …”).
  • Ask for the impact (“Can you share your feedback on the impact of that story on you and the team?”).

Coaching conversations

Using the SBI model in a conversation so that it clarifies intent versus impact builds trust and understanding, according to the Center for Creative Leadership. And coaching conversations is crucial to being a great leader that affects real change.


Aditi Patil is a manager in Wipfli’s talent and organizational development team who writes the Everyday leadership with Aditi series on LinkedIn. Learn more about how Wipfli invests in associate growth and explore open positions in our careers section.

Aditi Patil

Aditi Patil
Manager, Talent & Org Development

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