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Zen and the Art of Feedback

Last week we examined how to create an environment that encourages feedback. Leading by example paves the way for you to give feedback more effectively to your colleagues. Today we’ll discuss the art of crafting and delivering feedback.

Plan Your Feedback

If you’ve delivered 10,000 hours of feedback and achieved “Feedback Mastery,” you may be able to provide feedback spontaneously with excellent results. The rest of us need to plan to achieve the desired result.

Here are some thoughts to consider :

  • Am I delivering reinforcing feedback or redirecting feedback?
  • What impact do I want my feedback to have?
  • Will my feedback be constructive?
  • Will my feedback be actionable?

You can find several feedback models that will help you structure your feedback to help ensure it’s constructive, actionable, and achieves the desired impact. I’m a fan of the SBI model.


First, you need to outline the situation you are referring to. It should be a clear, specific example. Often we are vague about the situation, which leaves the feedback open to interpretation and debate.

For example, if you open with “When you give presentations,” the recipient has little context. Which presentation? All of them? Presentations to clients? Be specific. “In the presentation you delivered to the Executive Team Monday afternoon….”


Next, you describe the behavior you want to address. The key here is to stick to the facts. This should be a behavior you directly observed, not information passed on from others that could be inaccurate. You also want to ensure you focus on facts, not assumptions and beliefs. If we offer our own conclusions and the recipient disagrees with them, it will undermine our feedback.

For example, “I heard you were unprepared for the presentation.” Here we are passing on someone else’s observation, not our own, and we are assuming that whatever behavior that person saw resulted from a lack of preparation.

A better approach would be, “When you presented the financial case for the project, you could not answer several questions from the team.”


Finally, after describing the situation and the behavior, you explain the impact of the person’s behavior. This could be the impact on you, your team, your organization, your client, etc. Here you should use “I” or “We” statements. If you use “You” statements, the recipient may feel attacked.

For example, instead of saying “When you do this, you make our team look bad,” consider, “I’m concerned that the Executive Team has the impression that our team isn’t prepared to deliver this project.”

So, our less-than-optimal feedback looks something like this:

When you give presentations, I hear that you are not prepared. When you do this, you make our team look bad.

And a well-crafted statement would be:

In the presentation you delivered to the Executive Team Monday afternoon, when you presented the financial case for the project, you could not answer several questions from the team. I’m concerned that the Executive Team has the impression that our team isn’t prepared to deliver this project.

Opening the Discussion

Once you’ve delivered the feedback, you get to the fun part. How do you want to redirect (or reinforce) behavior? Think about what question you want to ask to open the dialog.

In some cases, you may have direct, specific guidance as to how you want to redirect the behavior. At times this may be the best next step. “For future presentations to the Executive Team, I would like to review the financial case with you to ensure you are prepared for potential questions.”

This may be an excellent opportunity for a coaching conversation. “What could you do differently next time to be better positioned to answer their questions?”

It may make sense to explore the intent behind the person’s behavior. Maybe they felt intimidated and clammed up even though they knew the answers. Perhaps they were expecting a colleague to be present who had prepared the financials. A coaching dialog creates a space to explore and find the best redirecting behavior. Often your first idea is not the best one.

A Few Other Tips

As I shared in last week’s post, the right conversation in the wrong mood is the wrong conversation. Brené Brown’s Engaged Feedback Checklist is an excellent resource to check in with yourself and make sure you are in the right frame of mind to deliver effective feedback.

Depending on the nature of your relationship, you may want to ask if the individual wants your feedback. If they report to you, the feedback shouldn’t be optional, but if it’s a peer or your boss, this is a simple way to test the waters (and their mood). People rarely decline an offer of feedback, and the question puts them in a receptive frame of mind.

If the feedback is heavy, I also like to open with, “This may sting a little.” That also helps the recipient prepare themselves. I typically open my 360 feedback sessions with, “Some of this feedback may sting a little. Remember that feedback is a gift.”

What are your favorite feedback techniques?

Schedule time with Josh.

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