Feedback,  Leadership

The Four Intentions Feedback Model

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two years ago I worked with a team that struggled with delivering feedback to each other. Team members would try to express something to either raise each others performance levels or to improve working relationships, but somehow something would always seem to go wrong and they ended up triggering each other. This damaged their productivity and morale to an extent that several people left the team.

The remaining team members went through feedback training and coaching, and we looked at how the intentions behind feedback are the foundation for constructing constructive feedback. For example, feedback about performance and feedback about working relationships sound very different but the members of this team always used the same format. Quite similar to when teams use user story formats for non-story related work e.g. As a system I want to not run out of memory so I don’t crash.

After feedback training, this team was even able to have very difficult conversations with each other about individual behaviors in a constructive way that strengthened their morale and productivity.

The moral of the story is that when we aren’t aware of our intention and when we do not deliberately shape feedback accordingly we risk damaging our working relationships, individuals and teams performance levels, and peoples self-esteem which is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. Unfortunately, my experience of working with teams has shown me that we pass on feedback in the wrong format more often than at least I’d like us to.

Nine types of feedback

Below are nine common intentions that I’ve noticed that people try to pass on in the standard feedback format (“When you… I felt… And it affected me/us this way”) even though it might be a poor match.

    • Advice
    • Appreciation
    • Coaching
    • Critique
    • Encouragement
    • Evaluation
    • Praise
    • Psychological evaluation
    • Interpersonal feedback

Below is a short quiz with some common statements. Can you guess the intention behind each¬†statement? ūüôā


The Four Intentions Feedback Model

If you found the quiz above difficult perhaps the model below will help you figure out what tool to use when.

As an example, let's say one of your team members keeps interrupting you which frustrates you and you don't want to work with her. What tool would you use in that situation? Would you try to coach the person? What if she hasn't understood that this is a problem, or what if she doesn't want to be coached by you? Or would you try to appreciate her in the hopes that she understands that she should stop interrupting you? If anything it's more likely that you'll come across as passive aggressive trying to manipulate her behavior or the conversation.

Note that criticism and complaints are not listed as intentions behind feedback because I don't consider them feedback. There's nothing constructive about them.

Scrum master, Coaches, Consultants, and Managers - focus on behavior, not psyche!

Many with leadership training sometimes think they know how the psyche works and evaluate people from a psychological standpoint, but unless you're trained for it (psychologist) and have permission to engage someone - don't.

Challenge yourself

If delivering feedback is an area you want to improve in, one thing that Might be helpful to you is to verify your intentions the next time you're thinking of delivering feedback to someone. Perhaps your intention is not to improve your working relationship and some other format might be more suitable.

I hope this post was valuable to you! As always, feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to chat more about this. :)

Thanks for reading!

P.s If you'd like to learn more about here are two other posts I've written about feedback.  What to think about when it comes to feedback. & The importance of feedback in self managing organisations.

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  • Viktor

    One addition. Evaluation is another type commonly mistaken for interpersonal feedback. Evaluations are used to improve performance and help people grow so it belongs in the top left corner. However, none of the statements in the quiz were examples of evaluations. One clear way to recognize evaluations is if the conversation is about someone meeting, not living up to, or exceeding expectations.

  • Thomas Bj√∂rklund

    Very interesting Viktor!
    I discovered that I need more training in this.
    Have a nice day!

  • Ove Lindstr√∂m

    Good one! And I “failed” miserably on the test. It is difficult to position the different kinds of statements that is used and disguised as feedback. The thing that strikes me is how often I see the three C’s (Critique, Criticism and Complaints) baked into a feedback “cinnamon bun” when it actually is pure bullying.


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