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How To Give Effective Feedback At Work – Use The Four Box Reflective Model


Hi, I’m Russell Stratton, Leadership Champion with Bluegem Learning. I work with companies just like yours to help transform managers from average bosses into great leaders and help to facilitate improvement in individual and team performance.

A number of the vlogs that I’ve done recently I’ve talked about managing performance. One area I want to focus on today is the concept of giving feedback. Now many of you will have come across a feedback model named the feedback sandwich. It’s been universally used for many years and basically breaks down into this approach. We start off with something positive. This enables the person to get engaged, to get on board. We then slip in something that they could improve upon. It can sometimes be seen by the recipient as the bad news and we finish on a high so they walk away with a positive feeling by giving them a closing good statement.

Now, for reasons just outlined, this is quite a popular model for people to use. But, over the years I’ve come across some problems with this and I’ll outline two of them. The first is this takes me back to a client I was working with whose members were ex-military. They call this the crap sandwich. The reason for this is they said, “Everybody knows what to expect.” They know that it’s going to be good news, bad news, followed by good news and they’re waiting, in their words, for the manager to get on with it and tell them the negative.

The second point that I found that was interesting with this was thinking about who’s doing the talking. If you think about yourself as a manager in this situation using the feedback sandwich, you’re going to find that you’re the one who’s doing the majority of the talking, and the recipient is basically listening to you and either nodding their head in agreement or shaking their head if they disagree with you.

With those two negatives, I like to offer you a model called the four box reflective model which I’ve consistently found over the last 20 years to have a lot better effect for managers and their staff when giving feedback. As the title suggests, the four box reflective model has four boxes. Similarly to the feedback sandwich, it also focuses on the positive and areas for improvement. That’s the similarity but this is where it really changes and where the power to this model is.

First of all, in box one, we are asking the individual what went well. The person here is doing the talking. They’re the one that’s explaining to you as their manager what’s gone well, what are the positives, what are the good things that they’ve done whether it’s that day, that month, that quarter or that year. Most people are good at being able to identify what they do well and welcome the opportunity to share that with you as their manager. They also get some focus on that positive state to start things off.

As we know, people don’t necessarily remember everything or there could be something that you’re aware of, perhaps some feedback that you’ve got recently that the individual hasn’t been told about yet. There is a chance for you as the manager to top this up, the positive side, with your own observations. This is where you come in over in the second box. You as the manager now have to put in your observations or the good things that the person has done, perhaps reiterating some of the things that they’ve already told you.

Now, we move onto boxes three and four and this is the opportunity to flip the conversation the other way. How could things be even better? I like the phrasing of that question because the words “even better” allow you to use this model with people whose performance need improvement, including people who are already good performers but maybe striving to be that high level performer in the organization.

First thing we coach them, how could that even be better? This allows the individual to be able to talk about things that they think they could improve upon, areas perhaps that they want to develop. Again, it’s the manager. Here, you’re listening to what they’re saying. Only when they’ve exhausted the topic do you come back in with your own views of where improvements could be made and again you could be reiterating something they’ve already said. That’s where you come in over here in box four.

Often what I find with this model, if people have been given the opportunity here to talk about positives, they’re a lot more willing down here to talk about where they could improve. Where we finish on a high here is we don’t just leave it at, “This is what you need to improve upon.” If I can cheat a little bit here and talk about a box 4A. This is where we talk about here an action plan for how that person could improve. This is an ideal opportunity for us to move into a more coach approach with the individual to help them improve in that area and get even better.

I hope you like the four box reflective model. I would urge you to give it a try the next time you’re giving feedback at work. If you like this vlog, share it with your colleagues. If you think there’s something I can do for your organization to help your managers, then contact me via

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