Feeling + behaviour + impact = FBI feedback formula

FBI is a good way to give feedback when you want to address situations that have caused some emotions – positive or negative. It is a way of discussing the actions or words of another. It’s not a suitable formula for a code review or other assessment of the quality of one’s work.

Here’s how a proper FBI feedback is created.

The setup for FBI feedback

To be able to present the feedback in FBI model first you need to recognize the components it consists of.

  • FEELING: What emotion did the action or behaviour of the other cause in you?
    • Are you angry, anxious, sad, disappointed or happy, surprised, thankful?
  • BEHAVIOUR: What was the exact action that caused this emotion?
    • Note that you should not use the phrase “you always” or “you never”. FBI feedback deals with a specific action that happened recently and which both can still remember. Of course the situation might have happened many times before, but it makes the feedback easier to receive and discuss, when we only take a look at one instance.
  • IMPACT: What were the consequences of this action?
    • How did it affect his/her job, my job, the wellbeing of the company or the team, the project, your relationship, the work culture?

For example: “I’m frustrated because you didn’t give me feedback yesterday like I asked. It is difficult for me to continue with the project without proper feedback about the work I’ve done so far and this made me feel like my effort is not valuable.”

Why do we need to talk about the feelings?

I understand that it is hard or even uncomfortable to start talking about feelings and emotions in the workplace. But there’s a very good reason to it.

The action itself can be justified or explained away. If I say “you never take out the garbage” the other will most probably say “I do too and just last week I did”. If I begin with “you didn’t give me feedback yesterday like you promised”, the other will most likely come up with some excuses. That is how us humans tend to react to accusations – even if they’re justified.

But I cannot argue and explain your emotions away. When you begin with what the action made you feel, I cannot argue against it. If you begin with “i’m frustrated”, I simply cannot reply “no, you’re not”.

Even if you think you don’t feel anything, deep down the action has stirred up some small emotion in the body. You rarely need to give feedback about neutral things. Most often there’s a bit of irritation, frustration, anxiousness or anger bubbling under, when you take a closer look.

The consequences are the most important part

So it is important to begin with a feeling. But even more important than that is to go all the way through to the consequences. If the action did not have any consequences, we wouldn’t have to talk about it at all. For me this has been one of the most important things to realise.

The world itself does not care whether the garbage got taken out, whether the feedback was written and not even if thousand litres of oil gets spilled in the rainforest. The vary same action can be good or bad depending on the consequences – the intended ones and the ones that actually happened. It is what comes after the action that makes all the difference.

Most often the one doing the action does not actually mean for the consequences to happen. The action itself may be just thoughtless, careless, unintended or even done meaning well. It is surprising how often the intentions were good. This is why the consequences need to be part of the feedback, so that the discussion is actually constructive and useful.

It is very easy to give general, non-specific feedback “people say that you never…”. But this kind of feedback only causes more negative feelings and nothing will change. When you take responsibility of giving the feedback, putting your own experiences and emotions on the table, only then the receiver will take responsibility of what he or she did and will change the behaviour the next time.

TL;DR How to give feedback with FBI formula?

  • First point out what emotion did the action cause in you.
    • I feel frustrated because…
  • Then mention the specific action that caused this emotion.
    • … you did not provide me with feedback like you promised.
  • Add the consequences the action had.
    • It is hard for me to continue with the project without feedback and I feel like my work does not matter to you.

Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment!

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