Difficult feedback to give?

Need it to land really well?

Willing to invest the time?

Here, red10 ‘s Will Sudworth introduces red10 ‘s gold standard for giving feedback, using the acronym I’M SQIFFE, Will shares the story of when using this approach saved him from a horrible situation.

Person Down

It was Monday. Mick hadn’t come into work and hadn’t messaged. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. Which meant the “call waiting alarm” was going off all the time.

It was my first time line-managing the morning shift of an IT Helpdesk. This was back in the late 90s. We’d installed some new tech: a screen showing how many calls were waiting, that went red and sounded an alarm when there were 3 or more people in the queue.

So if the small team was missing a person, the alarm would go off regularly. You couldn’t escape the alarm; you even heard it in the kitchen and the toilets.

On Monday we coped. Barely.


Mick didn’t come in, again.

No message, again.

I still didn’t know what to do. Now the team were getting grumpy and asking me where he was and what I was doing about it. Again, I did nothing.

On Tuesday we coped. Just.


To our surprise, Mick came in, late. No apology for being late. No explanation for missing the last two days.

The team were angry now and passing me notes saying things like

  • “If you don’t say something, we will”
  • “He’s letting you down, himself down, the whole team down. He knows how we have to keep on top of calls.“
  • “That’s so rude!”
  • “I can’t believe he hasn’t said anything.”

Finally, I asked him for a coffee so we could catch up.

I said, “Mick, you didn’t come in on Monday and you didn’t call-in to say why, same Tuesday, and today you’ve come in yet late and still no reason why….”

And I was about to use some of the hard lines the team had given me, when I noticed tears in his eyes and I instinctively stopped and said, “Are you okay?”

And thank goodness I did… I’ll explain why at the end of this article.

Crucial Feed-Forward Conversations

Chances are…

  • you’ve had to have some “crucial conversations”.
  • you thought a lot about the conversation, before and after.
  • you’ve not come across tried and tested good ways to have feedback – or maybe it’s better to call it “feed-forward” – conversations.

Introducing I’M SQIFFE

There are several feed-forward models we like in red10: From the 5:1 Catching People Doing Things Right to Requests and the 4-Step Assertive Model.

Yet this acronym-based model, I’M SQIFFE, is the gold standard for when risk is high, and you’re willing to invest the time to land the conversation well.

In case you’re interested, “Squiffy” is an olde English word that means tipsy or slightly drunk. A client came up with this playful acronym and we like it!

Click on the letters to run through the steps

You can click here for another, more playful example of how to use it


An intro gives choice and preparation time to the other person yet does
not invite a “no” for them. It assumes the conversation will happen and soon.


Be authentic and honest. If you are trying to score points or beat the other person you aren’t in the right state of mind to give the feedback.


This is where you describe the situation or the data or the behaviour – what you know, have seen or experienced; just the facts, no judgement, simply what you have noticed and when.


This is the time to ask them their opinion or their view of the situation. They may be already aware, know it is happening, have heard this feedback before or have no knowledge.


(If appropriate) Sharing the impact on you, another person or the situation is useful for the other person to know. You might not need to share the impact.


This final piece is future focused and explores together what can be done to improve things.


A second careful check on their view to find/resolve any misunderstandings before moving to a solution.

End Well

There is always something to commend – important to end on positive note.

Back to Mick

To recap:

  • I’d pulled him to one side for a coffee
  • I’d stated some facts
  • I was about to be hard with Mick, using the lines the team had fed me
  • I’d instinctively stopped to ask “Are you okay?” as I saw a tear in his eye.

And thank goodness I did stop and ask. As his answer stunned me.

“My mum died on Sunday.”

Turns out he didn’t know what to do with himself on Monday or Tuesday and the need to be with people he cared for brought him in, eventually, on Wednesday.

Of course, now we were having a completely different conversation.

The I’M SQUIFFE steps saved me, even though I didn’t know the steps back then. I often think back to how the team would have found it hard to forgive me if I’d used the lines they fed me, even though they were their lines.

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s one thing knowing the steps, it’s another thing being well-practised at them.

Might you be interested in our 2hr mini class on feed-forward or our Masterclass on Conflict Handling?
It includes advanced mediation techniques together with practising crucial conversations to try to avoid conflict happening in the first place.