In the US, it’s time again when families break out the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie – to celebrate Thanksgiving, a great reminder to express gratitude for the blessings in life and for those around you.
Unfortunately, it’s a reminder we need once a day, not just once a year.
But expressing our feelings to others can be difficult, especially in the workplace. It’s hard enough at times to articulate why you appreciate someone, much less confront someone when there is an issue.
About 10 years ago, to help our people improve interpersonal communication and relationships, we developed Listen Like a Leader, a class our team members take through Barry-Wehmiller University and people outside our company take through BW Leadership Institute (now Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, read more here) or our non-profit, Our Community Listens. A graduate of this class, our friend Kristen Hadeed, CEO of Student Maid, recently released her first book, Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing Almost Everything Wrong. You can hear her talk about her leadership journey on a recent episode of the Everybody Matters Podcast.
One of the takeaways Kristen had from the class is a way to give feedback to others. We call the formula behavior + feeling + impact, but Kristen rechristened it the “FBI.”
Here’s an excerpt from her book where she explains a very simple formula to keep in mind, not only in the workplace, but in everyday life.
It might even be helpful over the dinner table for those of us celebrating Thanksgiving.
From chapter three of Permission to Screw Up:
Bob Chapman is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, a $3 billion capital equipment and engineering company based in St. Louis with more than twelve thousand employees world- wide. We met when I was invited to speak at an intimate conference he hosted at his ranch in Aspen, many years after I introduced the sandwich method for feedback at Student Maid. If I weren’t running my own company, I’d want to work for Bob Chapman. If you were to ask him about his company, he wouldn’t start by talking about the machines they build. Instead he’d say, “We measure our success by the way we touch the lives of others, and that comes through in everything we do.”
I love Barry-Wehmiller because everything it does is about helping its people thrive. For years, the company has offered a communications course that is known for dramatically changing the interpersonal relationships of Barry-Wehmiller’s team members—not just at work, but also at home. In fact, the class was so successful that Chapman and his team decided to create a powerful three-day training and offer it to those outside the company through an entity called the Barry-Wehmiller Learning Institute. Since the course’s inception, more than ten thousand people from inside and outside Barry-Wehmiller have taken the class, called Listen Like a Leader, and I am fortunate enough to be one of them. This is where I learned all about the FBI—no, not that FBI. In this case, the FBI is an approach to giving feedback that is light- years beyond the sandwich method in terms of effectiveness. The class helped me understand that the problem with the way most people give feedback—whether it’s sandwiched between positive affirmations or not—is that we don’t deliver it in a way that inspires the recipient to change their behavior. Barry-Wehmiller teaches that if you want to give truly effective feedback, you need to communicate three things: the way you feel, the specific behavior that made you feel that way, and the impact that behavior has—whether it’s on you, the company, your relationship with that person, or anything else.
Feeling-Behavior-Impact. F. B. I.
Here’s an example of an FBI statement: “I feel disappointed that you were thirty minutes late to the meeting yesterday afternoon, and now I’m unsure if I can rely on you in the future.”
Let’s break down its awesomeness.
Feeling: The more you can focus on how you feel and not on how you perceive the other person feels, the less the person on the receiving end can dispute your statement. For example, if someone’s late and you tell them, “You don’t care about your responsibility,” you open the door to argumentative and defensive responses: That’s not true. I do care! If you say, “I feel angry,” “I feel frustrated,” or “I feel disappointed,” you leave little room for debate.
Behavior: The recipient needs to know what they did that caused you to feel a certain way, and the more specific you can be, the better. If you were to say simply, “You were late,” that person might have trouble pinpointing an exact instance of the behavior, especially if you waited a couple days before talking to them about it.
Impact: People generally don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I want to ruin so-and-so’s day.” They don’t usually intend for their behavior to negatively impact anyone or anything. When they know that it has, they will likely try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In this particular example, when you tell someone that their behavior makes you question their reliability, you are showing them the consequences of being late and inspiring them to want to do differently next time.
But wait. There’s more.
The FBI is also the perfect tool for recognition. I didn’t even know there was a right way to give recognition. I al- ways thought that as long as I said something, it meant something.
Well, as it turns out, just as vague comments don’t help someone change their negative behavior, random praise (like “You’re amazing!!!!”) doesn’t inspire anyone to keep doing great things. We shouldn’t praise people just to praise them. It’s like the whole Participation Generation thing: If we tell people they are awesome at everything, how will they know what they are really good at? Instead of thanking people for just showing up and doing what is expected of them, we should look for what they do that is above and beyond and acknowledge them for those things.
Same deal here. When you recognize someone with an FBI, you tell them how they made you feel, the behavior that specifically made you feel that way, and the impact of their actions. When we give someone all three pieces, they’ll usually be inspired to repeat that behavior—again and again and again.
Here’s an example: “I felt grateful when you stayed late last night to help me with the report, and it allowed me to make it home in time to put my kids to bed.”
Guess who is likely going to volunteer to stay late again the next time you need help?
I learned so many things in the Barry-Wehmiller class, but the FBI takes the cake. It was simple, easy, and effective. I wanted everyone at Student Maid to be an FBI expert. Not because the company was experiencing anything like those drama-filled days from years ago, but because I didn’t want our students to have to wait for an online survey to share their concerns. I wanted them to be able to give feedback as soon as they had it, and to know how to deliver their message in person, without hiding behind a screen. Over the next several months, with permission of course, I developed a half-day workshop that incorporated some of the things I’d learned from Barry-Wehmiller, FBI chief among them. Participation in the class was, and continues to be, a requirement for every single member of our team; they are paid to attend.
Today, not only have FBIs completely replaced the sandwich method at Student Maid, but they’ve also eliminated the need for anonymous surveys. Because we’ve taught our students an effective way to confront their peers, they feel empowered to solve interpersonal issues face-to-face. Every person at Student Maid—me, those who lead our company, our students—now has an extremely effective way to give any member of our team corrective feedback, which we encourage them to give in person whenever possible. We liter- ally just walk up to each other and say, “Hey, I need to give you an FBI.” It’s that simple. So simple, in fact, that our students have chosen to use it outside of work. Take, for example, the student who told me she used an FBI to confront her professor when she felt she was being unfairly picked on in class. After she gave the FBI, the professor stopped teasing her.
FBIs even made me rethink our WOW Wall.
The wall hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s a lot bigger and fancier now, and it’s still a very popular spot in our office. It’s still how our students see what our clients are saying about their work. But while many of our customers do fill out the surveys, there are still many who never do. Which means there’s a good chance that there are some students who are doing amazing work and not being recognized for it on the wall. It makes me sad to think that in the past, there may have been team members who went home day after day wondering if anyone even noticed their efforts. As it turns out, the WOW Wall was not the perfect solution to the anonymity problem. FBIs, though, are pretty darn close.
FBIs have taught us to acknowledge our students frequently for the ways in which they contribute to our team and the company: picking up a shift last minute, helping us with an errand, unloading the dishwasher in our kitchen. When we see someone carting their cleaning supplies into the office with sweat dripping down their face after a grueling day, we have a way to tell them sincerely how much their hard work means to us. We’ve even created a second WOW Wall, where team members write FBIs to recognize one another and pin them up for all to see. Our students have also gotten into the habit of giving us—the leaders of the company—FBIs when we go above and beyond (cue the warm and fuzzies). Before FBIs, I imagine some of those leading my company were also going home after work wondering if anyone appreciated their efforts. Today they no longer need to wonder.