Giving an effective feedback

Jul 24, 2023·

5 min read

In this article, I talk about the Ladder of Inference, models for structuring feedback, and best practices for giving feedback.

Before discussing feedback, it is essential to mention the Ladder of Inference. The concept was first introduced by organizational psychologist Chris Argyris. Below is an example of how the decision-making process works in a daily life situation.

Comic strip representing the Ladder of Inference in a day-to-day situation with two colleagues at work.

Source: Anna Warfield on Storyboardthat

George is focused on his phone during Judy's presentation. Since he is not looking at Judy while she presents, it seems like he is not interested in the presentation. However, the only observable fact is that George is looking at his phone, but he may be: waiting for an important call, scheduling a meeting with Judy to discuss the presentation's topic further, trying to turn off the phone, etc.

The steps in the comic strip represent the rungs of the Ladder of Inference.

Image of the Ladder of Inference with the rungs: Observable Data, Selecting Data, Adding Meanings, Making Assumptions, and Drawing Conclusions.

Observable Data: Everything that can be observed.

Selecting Data: Since we cannot pay attention to all facts, we select some and leave others aside.

Adding Meanings: Facts are interpreted and given personal significance.

Making Assumptions: At this level, assumptions are made based on the meanings given to the facts.

Drawing Conclusions: From there, we turn our assumptions into firm conclusions. Beliefs: At this stage, based on the conclusions we draw, we adopt beliefs about the situation. Then, we use these beliefs and experiences to shape future judgments about similar scenarios.

Actions: Actions are taken based on beliefs and conclusions.

Decision-making seems to be the best option at the moment.

By using the Ladder of Inference, it is possible to learn to go back to the facts and use beliefs and experiences for more assertive decision-making. I really like a video by Trevor Mabe - Rethinking Thinking for TED Ed, which illustrates well how the Ladder of Inference works in a day-to-day situation. If you're interested in watching, click here.

And what does the Ladder of Inference have to do with giving feedback? Everything. The decision-making process leading to an action on the Ladder of Inference is based on assumptions grounded in each person's experiences and experiences. Giving feedback is precisely about avoiding judgments. Therefore, when giving feedback, it is important to free oneself from assumptions, be open, and have active listening.

"Active listening is a technique that brings efficiency to dialogue, based on understanding and caring when listening to others. It consists not only of hearing but also of understanding and interpreting with attention the information received, whether verbal or non-verbal. Because what was not said, or silence, also has much to say." (Exame, 2019)

Why give feedback? Feedback is one of the ways to motivate people as it encourages behaviors that are valued by the company and the team, as well as stimulates self-awareness, helping people identify their limitations and understand how to deal with them better.

What are the types of feedback? Feedback can be positive or constructive. The first aims to encourage a behavior and encourage the repetition of certain actions. On the other hand, constructive feedback aims to redirect a behavior when something did not happen as expected.

How to prepare for giving feedback? To prepare for giving feedback, first identify your emotional state. How are you feeling that day? If you are feeling frustrated, irritated, or if you think your emotional state might affect how you give feedback, reconsider and reschedule. Validate with the person if they are open to receiving feedback and if it is an appropriate moment. Do not wait too long, as both you and the other person need to remember the situation to make the feedback more tangible and specific. Schedule the conversation with the person in a private location and get organized. If you think it's helpful, write down the key points you want to address.

How to give structured feedback? There are several models available in the market that can facilitate structuring the conversation; in this article, I will mention 3 of them.

Keep and Consider (General Electric - GE)

A model created by General Electric (GE) called Keep-Consider, which replaced the company's annual salary review, encouraging real-time feedback.

"I believe you should continue sharing knowledge with the team and colleagues whenever you have opportunities, and you should consider adapting the material according to the audience and their level of knowledge in the topic you're sharing."

ABC (McKinsey)

The McKinsey model, ABC, stands for Action-Behavior-Could do. In this model, you describe the Action taken, the Behavior observed, and what the person Could do differently in the future.

"In the morning meeting with the stakeholders, you took [Action], which made me feel [Behavior]. Next time, I recommend that you [Could do differently]."

SBI (Center for Creative Leadership)

The SBI model (Situation, Behavior, Impact) developed by the Center for Creative Leadership works with three pillars: Situation, Behavior, and Impact. Feedback using this structure first focuses on describing the environment and occasion. After providing the context, it is recommended to mention the person's behavior in the situation. Finally, describe the impact that the behavior had from the perspective of the person giving the feedback.

Situation - During the planning meeting when we were discussing the issue with a functionality;

Behavior - You interrupted me several times and didn't let me finish my ideas;

Impact - This made me uncomfortable because I had knowledge and experience to contribute to the discussion;

Add the expectation: In future meetings, could you give me space to express my views? I believe we can arrive at more creative and effective solutions by listening to what team members have to share.

When giving feedback, it is recommended to provide the context from your perspective, avoid speaking on behalf of the group or individuals involved, and bring your view of what happened. The feedback should be from you to the person present at that moment.

If you've made it this far, I hope you enjoyed the reading. Have you been practicing feedback in your daily life? Do you use any of these frameworks, or do you have any other suggestions? Tell us more!


Performance review GE

Effective Feedback