I’ve been noticing lately how we tend to be pretty bad at giving feedback. In fact, we are so bad that the people around us are flying blind. As are we.
We all have blind spots. One of the gifts you can give me is to help me see into mine. I can give you the same gift. That’s where feedback comes in. Or does it?
Do we know what “feedback” is? I don’t think so. Who has taught us? What did they know of it? Why do we avoid it? Our misunderstandings and misfires lead me to question if we really know what feedback is.
Should we even give it? I don’t think so. Does it surprise you that I don’t think I should give you feedback and that I don’t want yours? It shouldn’t be a surprise — given that we tend to do more harm than good. But!
Should we be able to help one another see into our blind spots? Heck yeah. The thing is this: It doesn’t look anything like the way we’ve been doing it, and it doesn’t come from the inner place from which we typically give it.
The Way We Do It
“Do you mind if I give you some feedback?” Does anyone ever say that to you? How does that make you feel? Do you cringe? Brace yourself? What happens? I have another question for you: Do you, in turn, say that to other people when you are ready to give them some feedback?
That — “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?” — is one misguided question. It is coming from a misguided place, with a misguided intention. This feedback typically comes from the place of, “You’ve messed something up and I’m going to tell you how you should have done it instead.” Or, worse.
Who are we to tell someone else how they should be? I don’t know about you, but if we call a spade a shovel, that’s arrogance, isn’t it? No wonder we are reticent to give “feedback,” and no wonder they cringe or brace themselves when we ask that misguided question.
There Is A Better Way
Let’s uncoil everything we think we know about feedback — what it is and how we should give it. Here’s the bottom line.
Stop giving feedback: Start sharing of yourself. What the heck does that mean and what does that entail? It is brilliantly simple. I didn’t come up with it. The Center for Creative Leadership did, and they call the model Situation-Behavior-Impact. They even trademarked it, so it must be good.
The key here is that instead of giving feedback as you know it, you are:
- Clearly stating a specific situation where something occurred. Nothing subjective about it. Reasonable people would agree that the situation occurred in the space-time continuum, on this physical plane.
- Clearly and straightforwardly stating the behavior(s) you observed. Nothing subjective about it. Onlookers would agree that the behavior occurred. After all, it was observable. Leaving out any conjecture as to the other person’s intention, motivation, thoughts, feelings, or impulses and focusing solely on observable behavior squeezes out most subjectivity.
- Clearly replaying your on-the-spot, instinctive/visceral response to what you observed. Contrary to what you might think, if you do literally what I’m writing here there is nothing subjective about the fact that you experienced that response. Maybe you should have, maybe you shouldn’t have. That is subjective. But the response you had is the response you had. That’s objective.
That is Situation-Behavior-Impact. It is sheer simplicity and highly effective. This isn’t just the Center for Creative Leadership’s notion. The article “The Feedback Fallacy” in the March-April 2019 edition of Harvard Business Review noted this as well. Authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall made this point: Replaying your instinctual response to someone else’s behavior is one of the most powerful things you can do to help them “get” their behavior and the impact of that behavior on the people around them. (By the way, there are other points in that article I disagree with, but I found that particular point a gem.)
But SBI is often missing something important. An “R.” Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey — authors, consultants, and experts in adult development and “Deliberately Developmental Organizations” — made this point to my colleague Pamela and me when we were talking about crucial conversations one day. Sometimes we also need to make a direct request.
It is sometimes needed and helpful for us to go for SBIR. Making a direct request of the other person means they don’t have to guess what we would prefer they to do instead of the behavior they did. It is a request, and they can take it or leave it. It is their call.
It can also be incredibly helpful for us to ask them if they have a request of us. After all, we may be contributing to the “problem.” Yes, that’s possible. And it is humble to ask.
Notice in SBIR you are not asking for permission to give them feedback, nor are you telling them how they should do something. You are sharing of yourself. “In this situation, you did this behavior and it struck me this way.” It is very clean. And, if it makes sense, you make a request and ask if they have a request of you. This isn’t first and foremost about them. It is about sharing your experience with them, with the intention that it may be helpful to them.
This isn’t feedback as we’ve known it. It is a vulnerable sharing of ourselves to another. IF it is done from the right place.
The Place from Which We Do It
The words you say are less important than the inner place from which you say it. Words said from an inner place of a “heart at peace” will have a significantly different impact than the same words said from an inner state of a “heart at war.” This beautiful way of putting it comes from one of my favorite books, The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute. I’ve written an article about working with our internal state here. It is an essential topic and it is outside the scope of this little ditty.
A Resource for You
I get so many questions about this that I just wrote a one page (two-sided) document that provides more detail about SBIR. You can get a free PDF of it here. I really hope you find it useful. I’ve also made a short video on the topic, which you can find here or watch below!
Imagine what our workplaces, homes, communities, and government would be like if we could release the “feedback” models we’ve been taught and shift to this. Imagine how we would be more authentic and vulnerable (SBIR done from a heart at peace involves a LOT of vulnerability). Imagine how SBIR with a heart at peace supports psychological safety and radical candor — as I’ve written about here. Imagine how much faster we would grow, develop, heal, and evolve if others were speaking to us in this way, from this place. And imagine supporting others in the same way. Total candor with unflinching kindness. Open heart, clear mind, strong spine.
That’s a world I want to live in. And you?
P.S. Don’t forget I have a free resource for you here, and that a video that goes into even more detail can be found here or watched below. Enjoy, and get out there and give this a go! One small test. One low-risk situation. Step over the fear, and take the leap.
P.P.S. If you know someone who might benefit from this article, it’d warm my heart if you’d pass this along to them. Let’s all get better at this. Like our society and perhaps humanity and the earth on which we live, move, and have our being depends on it.