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Delivering Difficult Feedback: Two Models, One Goal

Judy Ringer
3 min readAug 19, 2020


I’m reading a book by Shari Harley — How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work. I’ve also watched a couple of her videos, which are easy to find on the Web.

One of the things I like about the book is the title, which grabs your attention. Having written a couple of my own, I know how important that is. I also like Shari’s simple 8-step formula, especially the “State Your Motive” feature, because it shows the speaker’s positive intent:

  1. Introduce the conversation by asking for a few minutes of the person’s time.
  2. State your motive.
  3. Describe the observed behavior.
  4. Share the impact or result of the behavior.
  5. Have some dialogue, and ask for the recipient’s perception of the situation.
  6. Make a suggestion or request for what you’d like the person to do next time.
  7. Build in agreement on next steps.
  8. Say “Thank you.”

An example of a conversation she offers from a health care setting:

“Hey, do you have a second?” (Or, “When you have two minutes, I’d like to talk with you.”) “This is a little awkward for me to bring up, and maybe for you, but I care about you and I care about your career and I think this is getting in the way. I’ve noticed at times when you’re working with patients, you’re on your phone and you’re texting. I want our patients and staff to notice how smart you are, and I want you not to be distracted when engaged with a patient. What are your thoughts?…

May I make a suggestion? Our environment is about patient care. I’m going to ask you when you’re with a patient to not have your phone out and to give your full attention to that patient. Will you do that? …..”

Thank you.

Two Models, One Goal

Shari’s 8-step method reminded me of another communication technique I use and teach, embodied in the acronym SBI:

  • Situation
  • Behavior
  • Impact

Both models have one goal: they encourage you to hold the conversation sooner rather than later. As Shari says, stop waiting for the right time. The SBI technique simplifies things, which may help you to remember it.

If you encounter defensiveness, that’s fine. When people receive feedback they will often get defensive. If you remain calm and centered, and make your request with their interest at heart, you’ll go a long way toward removing the barriers in the relationship and making your workplace a more comfortable place to hold similar conversations.

Useful feedback can happen in two minutes. What takes time is putting the conversation off, staying awake at night, or avoiding the person instead of talking to them.

Think for a moment about a conversation you’ve been putting off. Or about some feedback you’d like to offer to a coworker. How will that feedback help them and the work environment? What are you waiting for?

Good ki!



Judy Ringer

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.