When somebody disappoints you, fails to deliver what you expected or lets you down in some way, what do you do? If you’re like most people (leaders are no exception), you make assumptions that are usually not positive and are very often wrong:

That guy is not a team player…lazy…doesn’t care…just doesn’t get it.

And then you take action:

Find a workaround…get somebody else to do the work…rethink responsibilities…tell him off or talk about him to someone else…initiate discipline.

“We often don’t even realize that we create stories about people, especially when they disappoint us,” says CCL’s coaching portfolio manager Candice Frankovelgia.

“This happens all the time and executives are no exception,” she notes. “We assume we know why the other person acted a certain way and react based on those assumptions without checking accuracy.”

“Most problems start in the gap between intention and impact,” says Frankovelgia.

SBI feedback model

People usually intend to do the right thing but something gets scrambled or misinterpreted along the way. The impact is far from what they intended. The only way to know what someone intended is to ask — and the only way to let a person know their impact is to tell them.

These important conversations rarely happen, and we move through our days in a tangle of misperceptions and actions based on incorrect assumptions. So, how do you have conversations to find out why a person chose to behave a certain way?

Giving candid, behavioral feedback opens up communication, and CCL’s Situation-Behavior-Impact model of feedback has a long history of success. This success is enhanced when the feedback (which is one-way) is accompanied by an inquiry about Intent (two-way). The conversation becomes a clarifying discussion where many difficulties can be avoided.

Sometimes simply asking a question like, “What were you hoping to accomplish?” can open the door to better understanding. For example:

When you wouldn’t commit to joining the strategy committee at the end of our staff meeting, I felt like you weren’t being a team player and the impact was that I felt you weren’t fully engaged. (SBI feedback) What was going on for you? (Inquiry about intent)

Inquiring about intent prevents us from veering off in the wrong direction based on faulty assumptions:

“I didn’t commit to joining the strategy committee because I wanted to learn more about the VP’s position in order to ensure alignment. I needed time to learn more about the issues. So, actually, I’m more committed and engaged than if I had just agreed due to the pressure of the moment.

Extending the SBI feedback model to the SBI-I allows the conversation to address what’s behind a person’s actions. This not only clarifies things, but builds trust and understanding. And simple solutions usually follow. Inquiring about intent is also where good coaching starts.

“When you inquire about intention, motivation or what is behind the action, you are essentially in a coaching conversation — one that can make a positive difference well before a performance review or disciplinary conversation,” says Frankovelgia. “The ability to have candid, honest and curious conversations is a leadership differentiator, something leaders need to be doing all the time.”

It is not that difficult. Check out one of your assumptions now. Go talk to somebody.

The SBI-I model is fundamental to CCL’s coaching skills courses: Coaching for Greater Effectiveness and Coaching for Human Resource Professionals.

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