The Value of the SBI Feedback Model

Are you aware of the incredible value of the SBI Feedback Model for executive coaching? Jason (not his real name, of course!) was increasingly irritated with the attitude of a direct report — Reilly. Over the past several months, Reilly had become increasingly negative, dismissive, and sarcastic with her colleagues. They weren’t generally big things, but they were happening a lot, and they added up. Jason had had enough.

One day recently, after a team meeting at which Reilly had been particularly sarcastic and negative, she said something fairly innocuous to Jason — but negative and dismissive. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Jason “offered feedback” on the spot, telling her that her attitude was terrible, counter-productive, and intolerable. He was upset and trying to control his emotions.

Reilly was completely taken aback. This hurricane of vague, harsh feedback seemed to come out of nowhere. She wasn’t following Jason’s train of thought. In fact, she thought the comment she had just made was pretty harmless — she was not connecting the dots the way Jason was. She felt under attack. After, when working with Jason directly, she shut down, becoming quiet, defensive, and very cautious around him.


Giving (Effective) Feedback is Hard

Giving productive, useful feedback does not come naturally to most of us, whether we are leaders or not. Most of us avoid anything we perceive as negative or confrontational, and like Jason, we sometimes hold it all in until the dam bursts. Or we provide feedback for the wrong reasons, or use ineffective communication techniques. This isn’t easy!


How the SBI Feedback Model Works

A feedback model that we have found useful with our executive coaching clients is called the SBI Feedback Model. Originally created by the Center for Creative Leadership, SBI stands for “Situation,” “Behavior,” and “Impact.” It’s an extremely valuable and effective way to provide feedback because it is specific, focused, and emphasizes the impact of whatever issue is under discussion — from the quality of a person’s work on a recent project to their interactions with co-workers.

It also works with “positive” feedback as well as “negative” feedback. It’s interesting that we tend to think of giving feedback from the perspective of here-is-what-is-wrong-let’s-fix-it. Positive feedback can be very helpful in reinforcing and encouraging good behaviors, high-quality work, innovation, and effective team performance.

The SBI Feedback Model helps you provide feedback in three phases:

The Situation

Describe the context where the behavior happened. Be specific — when, what, where, who. It is especially important that you directly observe the behavior. Acting on the basis of second-hand stories is a slippery slope fraught with danger!

The Behavior

Give an account of the person’s “observable” behavior. Describe only what you factually and objectively see and hear. Don’t try to be a mind-reader and guess at motivations or intent. And don’t inject your assumptions or judgment of the behavior.

The Impact

Describe the consequences of the behavior on you and others. Explain what you believe the results and effect of the behavior were. Always speak for yourself, not others — impact should be about what you feel, perceive, and believe.


Here’s an Example — Then Try It!

Instead of blowing up what if, when Reilly had been negative, dismissive, or sarcastic with her colleagues, Jason had followed up with her after the meeting and said:

Situation: “Reilly, during this morning’s project meeting you disagreed with ideas and suggestions made by three other members of the team — Alison, James, and Natalie.”

Behavior: “In each case, you used sarcasm to imply that the ideas and suggestions were frivolous, and dismissed the recommendations as a waste of time.”

Impact: “I believe your sarcasm and dismissive tone hampers the team’s ability to openly and honestly brainstorm ideas and shuts down the responses of others. Your comments and attitude are hamstringing the team’s creativity and slowing down their progress.”

This approach is specific, focused, and spoken about in the first person. Reilly can understand what Jason is talking about (even if she disagrees). Importantly, it sets the stage for further discussion and next steps. For example, it may be that Reilly is not aware that she is perceived as sarcastic.

Now, select a situation that you are dealing with in your work, write out the SBI elements as you see them, and try this with your own team. For more about feedback models, our executive coaching experts love this good primer from

To learn more about how to improve communication skills and your ability to provide effective feedback, contact Arden Executive Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.