Most of us dread having to give tough, constructive feedback—whether it’s to a peer or to someone who reports to us. We feel uncomfortable delivering it, they feel uncomfortable hearing it, and we believe that the problem lies in the fact that we’re delivering bad news to them.
But here’s the truth: While the bad news aspect of negative feedback may very well contribute to our discomfort, it’s not just about the bad news. In reality, most of us aren’t that great at giving positive feedback either! We tend to think there’s nothing to it and, therefore, that we’re naturally pretty good at it. However, when most people provide positive feedback, they do it in a way that lacks specificity and impact.
For example, you might leave a client meeting that you think went really well and tell the person who led it something like: “Hey, great meeting!” And you might think to yourself: I just delivered some positive feedback; I’m a tremendous colleague/manager/leader! And if you asked me for my opinion, I’d say “Hmm… tremendous is a strong word”
So what’s wrong with the “Hey, great meeting!” feedback? After all, it’s positive reinforcement, right? It’s a pat on the back, isn’t it? Well, yes, but it’s also not very impactful. If I’m the person you’re giving that feedback to, I’d like to know: What did you like about the meeting? What do you think I did particularly well? What could I do next time to repeat the good performance?
The Center for Creative Leadership has a feedback model that I like and often share with my clients. It’s called the SBI model, and it involves including these 3 elements in your feedback:
- Situation – Orient the receiver to the situation you observed
- Behavior – Describe the specific behavior you observed
- Impact – Describe the impact of that behavior on you and maybe even on others
Using this type of feedback structure, instead of telling the person who led the successful client meeting “Sara, good meeting!”, you might say:
“Sara, I wanted to tell you how well I thought you led that meeting we just had. You started it on time, and you displayed a confident demeanor. I could sense that everyone in the room was feeling that you had command of not just the facts of the discussion but also the process. I think the client took away a very positive impression of our group based on the way you led that meeting. Whatever you did to prepare for today, keep doing it!”
Imagine how much more meaningful it would be to get substantive positive feedback like this compared to a generic “Good job with that!”
If you’re one of the many people who dread delivering negative feedback, the good news is that, if you get better at delivering positive feedback, you’ll automatically get better at delivering negative feedback. And the double-good news is that it’s easier, more pleasant, and usually a much lower-stakes proposition to practice giving positive feedback than negative feedback.
So if you want to stop dreading feedback, practice delivering high-quality positive feedback to those you work with. You’ll make someone’s day when you deliver something more impactful than a passing compliment, and you’ll be—without any extra effort—improving your negative feedback skills in the process.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.