Crucial Conversations in Stressful Times

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

When the stress is high, but you still need to have that crucial conversation, stick to the four steps of SBI-I.


In 2019, I participated in a Leadership Course in San Diego at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). I am a firm believer in continuous learning, not only for expanding our knowledge and sharpening our skills but to experience different perspectives of learning. For me this means, being the student, not the facilitator, and paying for my training, instead of the one being paid. To experience things through a different lens is one of the most educational things I do for my own personal and professional growth.

For example, I believe doctors should visit other doctors, so they can remember what it's like to be the patient. Hairdressers should visit other salons, remembering what it's like to be the one sitting in the chair. I have even recommended that people who attend conferences for their industry consider participating in a conference that has nothing to do with their industry. From this experience, you may get an idea that your industry has never thought of before. In fact, despite the recent travel issues with Southwest Airlines due to outdated scheduling software, they have long been known for quick turnaround times. Instead of looking at other airlines for ideas, Southwest leaders visited NASCAR to learn how the pit crew safely, effectively, and efficiently minimized downtime when a car came in for gas, a tire change, or a mechanical issue during a race. For this, Southwest was able to apply what they learned from a NASCAR pit crew to their own crew, becoming the pioneer of quick turnaround times within the airline industry.

As someone who is a communication expert, I know how to give and receive feedback; however, this doesn't mean I have nothing else to learn. While there "may be nothing new under the sun," how we perceive something can change because we change.

One of the techniques I learned at CCL is SBI-I. Initially, it was just SBI, but according to CCL, they later added the second "I" to make feedback an interactive conversation, instead of a one-way conversation. 

Here is what SBI-I means.

#1 - S stands for SITUATION.

Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Avoid generalities, such as “Last week,” as that can lead to confusion.

Example: “This morning at the 11 a.m. team meeting….

 #2 - B stands for BEHAVIOR.

Describe the actual, observable behavior. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments. 

Example: “I was interrupted when you started talking with the people seated at your table.” instead of “You were rude.”                                                                 

#3 - I stands for IMPACT.

Describe the results of the behavior. Because you’re describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings—not passing judgment—the listener is more likely to absorb what you’re saying.

If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior.

If the effect of the behavior was negative and needs to stop, you can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.”

Example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked.” or “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my train of thought.”

#4 - I stands for INTENT.

Ask about the person’s original intentions. This enables you to close the gap between impact and intent.

(Note: SBI-I is a feedback model that I learned and became certified to use as a result of my Leadership Training at CCL-San Diego in 2019.")

Although these four steps above seem simple, they aren't always so easy to do, especially for those of us who dread, avoid, or just don't enjoy giving or receiving feedback. But putting off some conversations can just cause an even more critical situation later, or worse yet, a "surprise."

When somebody disappoints you, fails to deliver what you expected, or lets you down in some way, it’s important to address it quickly, even and especially during stressful times.

And if you’re like most people, even in the most normal of times, you tend to make negative assumptions.

We often don’t even realize that we create stories about people in our heads, especially when they disappoint us. In the PsychoGeometrics world, we call this "catastrophic thinking." This kind of thinking can happen to anyone, but it especially happens to people who are sensitive, notice body language and expressions as part of one's communication, or has a strong work ethic, value system, or preconceived notion of what "right" and "wrong" behavior looks like, according to the book of "THEM."

This happens all the time. We see behavior and assume we know why the other person acted a certain way, and react based on those assumptions without checking the facts. In the world of PsychoGeometrics, we call this "Shape Perception."

Many difficulties can be avoided by Shape Flexing. In this case, this means pausing, having an open mind, asking others to tell you more, and ultimately seeing through the lens of each of the five Shapes that make up the PsychoGeometrics communication system. Shape Flexing leads to a clarifying discussion instead of acting solely on an assumption. Though people usually intend to do the right thing, sometimes things get misperceived, and the outcome is far from what they intended.

The only way to know what someone intended is to ask them — and the only way to let a person know their impact is to tell them. These important conversations rarely happen, though, and we move ahead based on what we perceive to be the truth.

But if we ask someone, "What was your intent?" will this not cause that person to be defensive?

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, using its SBI-I model, is proven to reduce the anxiety of delivering feedback and also reduce the defensiveness of the recipient. It's simple and direct, allowing you to identify and clarify the Situation, describe the specific Behaviors observed, explain the Impact the person's behavior had on you, and ask about Intent.

Furthermore, CCL says feedback is typically one-way. But when feedback includes an inquiry about intent, this makes it a two-way conversation. Inquiring about intent prevents us from "veering off in the wrong direction based on faulty assumptions."

In addition, CCL says, "Extending the SBI feedback model to SBI-I allows the conversation to address what’s behind a person’s actions. This not only clarifies things, but also builds trust and understanding. 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." 

From my own coaching experience, a negative performance review or disciplinary conversation should never be a surprise. It starts with that "in the moment" crucial conversation.

For more on Shaping Your Crucial Conversations, check out Strategic Shaping - the fifth module in our Shapes Online Learning Series. Use access code: 50off and save 50 percent.


NOTE: Susan Hite is the President of Hite Resources, Inc. since 2001 and is the creator and founder of Susan’s Train Your Brain Series,™ 7 principles for living a more peaceful, balanced, and productive life.

About 20 years ago, Susan was introduced to a communication tool called PsychoGeometrics.

Susan wanted to learn more, becoming a licensed and certified Subject Matter Expert of PsychoGeometrics, and sharing how to use PsychoGeometrics to strengthen communication with hundreds of companies and thousands of people from more than sixty countries worldwide.

In June of 2020, Hite Resources bought the PsychoGeometrics company, featuring five Shapes, representing five different behaviors for effective communication.