Impact Feedback

Impact Feedback

One way to give feedback

How often do you hear feedback like this “You are always too late for our Daily Standup. Don’t you respect your teammates?” “What is wrong with you? Why do you always have to interrupt me during a meeting? You are such a rude person.”

  • How would you react when you receive a feedback like this?
  • How would that make you feel?
  • Do you think the other addressee is aware of the situation?
  • Do you know the reasons why he or she is behaving in that way?

Often the person you address might not be aware of the situation or the impact it has on you. Maybe there is a reason for his or her reaction, and from her or his point of view, the reaction seems justified. The feedback might come surprising, and the addressee might find it inappropriate. Often, the situation might even escalate, or it will jeopardise the relationship or the well-being of the team.

What is impact feedback?

Impact feedback is also called Situation-Behaviour-Impact Feedback. You give another person feedback from your perspective by

  • describing the situation from your point of view (an observation not evaluation),
  • the impact it has on you (impact, feeling)
  • and what you like to be different (need).

This structure is often introduced with the sentence: “When you … the impact on me was … Hence, I ask you to …”

How to use impact feedback?

To give you an example: You enter the room and observe your colleague Adam eating his sandwich at your workplace. Butter is running all over his hands. A few moments later he notices you and is about to shake your hand.

One way to tell your colleague that you find this inappropriate can be “You are so disgusting, Do you really think I would shake your greasy hands?” or you just avoid shaking his hand, but shake the hands of the other team members.

Let us try a different way using impact feedback.

“Adam, when I walked into the room I saw you eating a sandwich on your table. I saw that your hands were getting all greasy. I noticed that you didn’t wash them before you were going to shake mine. I am sorry, but I felt a bit uncomfortable shaking your hand, so I refused. It would be cool if you would wash your hands beforehand.”

The situation from Adams’s point of view might have been a different one when he noticed that I didn’t shake his hand. Maybe he felt intimidated by you and thought “Why doesn’t he shake my hand but the hands of all my teammates? Doesn’t he respect me anymore? What did I do wrong?” He could address the situation using impact feedback “I recognised this morning that you only reluctantly shook my hand. That felt kind of insulting to me. Why did you do this?”

How does this kind of communication sound to you? Does it sound unnatural? Does it sound rude?

Is impact feedback appropriate in any situation?

Another example I use is talking with children: “Mateo, for the last five minutes you have been kicking my leg under the table. You are hurting me. Would you please stop it.”

Of course, when he doesn’t stop  … I would differ from impact feedback and say “Mateo, if you don’t stop kicking my you will not get a cookie later.”.

So if you colleague is aware of the situation and he knows your perspective, you can approach him differently “Sorry, but please wash your hands and I will shake them, but not before. I find this disgusting.”

Further remarks

If you address a situation, give the point in time and place the situation occurred, so the addressee knows which situation you are referring to, e.g. “In our jour-fixe last Monday, I noticed …” Avoid a “you always do this and that”. The latter doesn’t help the addressee to recall the situation.

Always describe how you want the situation to be. Instead of saying “wash your hands” say “I kindly ask you to wash your hands before you shake mine.”. Try to avoid a generalisation. “Please wash your hand before you shake the hands of others.” The latter sounds very instructive and might not be accepted as maybe others don’t mind if someone doesn’t wash his or her hands, e.g. in a factory or construction site.

Many people who hear about impact feedback find the sentence structure above a bit unnatural. Thus they sometimes feel reluctant to use impact feedback. I recommend applying the feedback in a more natural way by using your own words and more than one or two sentences (like in the example above).

Address situations when they occur (or shortly after) by giving feedback. Otherwise team members make up their own conclusions why their mates react in one way or the other.

Impact feedback prevents an escalation of a situation and team members deal fairly with each other. Always lead the team by example, use impact feedback even if the team avoids it. If a situation occurs where impact feedback seems appropriate and the team members don’t use it try to address this topic again. It might take a while before the team has assimilated it but its worth it. After a while it becomes natural and it will contribute to a healthy team spirit.


(Title Image by geralt, Creative Commons 3.0)