The ABC Feedback Formula

Taking the fear out of giving feedback

Does this sound familiar? You know you should give someone feedback, but you avoid it because it feels awkward, scary, risky, or hopeless. The first step is to REFRAME the situation. If done correctly, feedback is HELPFUL to the person you’re giving it to. While you may also benefit from the person receiving feedback, it’s really not about you. Put the focus on the other person. Okay, you’ve reframed and want to help, but how do you do it? I’ve come up with the ABC model of giving feedback:

A = Aiming for, hoping for, wanting for the person. This is short and optimistic. The reason why you start with a short, positive, Aim is to convey empathy, to show you care, and to lessen the chances of the receiver becoming defensive.

B = Behaviors you observed in/from the other person. These are fact-based, omitting assumptions, feelings, or judgment. It’s merely what you observed happen. A good way to tell if you are stating facts is the “videotape test”: can what you describe be captured by a video camera? I.e. “You walked out of the meeting” passes the test and it is a fact; whereas “you’re crazy” doesn’t pass the test and is a judgment.

C = Consequences or impact of those behaviors. Don’t skip this part either. We often tell people what they’re doing wrong, but not what those behaviors are doing to the person, others, the company, etc. Focus mainly on the impact.

The KEY is to NEVER go out of order. ALWAYS then then C.

If they get defensive, keep going back to A (Aiming) to let them know that your aim is positive. Afterwards, discuss next steps.

Here’s an example:

A = “Lois, I really want you to be seen as a strong leader in our organization. A leader employees see as confident and will want to follow.”

B = “When you’re in meetings, you speak very softly and avoid eye contact. As a result…”

C = “it gives the perception that you lack confidence and can’t convincingly advocate for yourself or your direct reports.”

A = “I hired you because of your strong background and want you to project yourself confidently as a leader others will want to follow. I want to help you.”

Giving feedback isn’t easy. Write out the ABC and then PRACTICE. Crafting the A is the hardest part. You want to be concise, not rambling. We naturally lead with the B (‘You did xyz wrong!”) or C (“I’m frustrated by what you did.” “You don’t seem to care about your work.”), but this will lead to instant defensiveness. Always lead with the A.

Need more help? Please feel free to reach out.