SBAR for Effective Communication: Reduce Time You Spend on Emails and in Meetings

Your question: “I’m wondering if you have a template to help document one on one meetings with employees/supervisors? “

image of two women meeting to discuss SBARWhat if we could find a universal principle for communication – one-on-one, presentation, reports, texts, emails, corporate communications?

SBAR was introduced to me as a patient safety tool when the IHI (Institute for Healthcare Improvement) had a significant and powerful movement to create widespread patient safety and quality change in healthcare. Being the highest incident industry, we needed tools to improve safety at the bedside.

Not in healthcare? That’s okay, keep reading. This is for you too.

Maybe it was my nonpracticing clinical brain, or perhaps the formula just made so much darn sense. I could immediately see how it would close the communication gaps in non-clinical communication and how it might speed up our communications as we were drowning in emails, listening to presentations that went over and experiencing death by meetings! Not only that, it might clear up miscommunication that could lead to unhealthy tension by being on the same page about how to communicate (eliminating one of the many variables that could kibosh our best effort in communicating well).

image SBAR meaning Situation Background Assessment Recommendation for better communicationSBAR as a Communication Tool

SBAR stands for:

  • Situation
  • Background
  • Assessment
  • Recommendation

In the patient safety and quality world, there are many resources about how to use it. Check out this resource from John Hopkins Medical Center if you are curious, such as if you’re not in healthcare yet are looking for a good handoff clinical tool. In other words, you can share vital information quickly.

Don’t we all need to do that, no matter our industry?

Here’s how you might use SBAR in, say, reminding people you work with about how important recognition is:

  • Situation – I have heard three people mention this week they don’t feel appreciated.
  • Background – We made a commitment at our last team retreat that appreciating each other would be a priority. We ordered thank-you cards, created a virtual kudos board, and started morning huddles with a reflection of a win from the day before.
  • Assessment – We have stopped our morning huddles and skipped over the acknowledgements section in the last few meetings. We have stopped handing out thank you cards, probably because we don’t have a reordering process or person responsible for it. Not having the tools or prompts may have led to a decrease in recognition behaviours and, therefore, people feeling appreciated.
  • Recommendation – We need to recommit our recognition strategies and perhaps encourage everyone to redo The Recognition Habit microlearning course – 15 minutes a week over the next four weeks – and see if there is a decrease in complaints and to ensure people feel valued, so we don’t see a spike in turnover, bullying or other barriers to our team’s success.

That took me 5 minutes to type that SBAR, and granted, I’ve used this tool for years and feel comfortable with it. However, I can tell you; it would have taken a lot longer to type out an example email to suggest a course correction of recognition behaviours. I’d be worried about sounding blaming or overly critical; instead, it focuses on behaviours and solutions.

Can you see how you might use it to structure a presentation, update your boss, write an executive summary, or even bring up a tricky issue at the dinner table tonight?

You don’t even have to use the SBAR itself. Taking the example above, here’s how you might bring it up in a team meeting:

image of team meeting to discuss SBAR communicationI’ve heard a few of us mention recently that they don’t feel appreciated. We all know how important it is to feel valued, which is why we all committed to making recognition a priority. We decided to order thank-you cards, build an acknowledgement into our team meetings, and begin our morning huddle with a reflection of a win from the day before.

It seemed to work well. However, we’ve stopped our morning huddles and sometimes skip over the acknowledgements section if our team meeting agenda seems too packed. We also never recorded our thank you cards, likely because we do not have a process or person responsible for this. I suspect not having the tools or prompts may have led to a decrease in recognition behaviours; our recognition habit might not be fully solidified. I’d like to recommend we recommit to our three recognition strategies.

Furthermore, we may benefit from redoing The Recognition Habit microlearning, taking 15 minutes a week over the next four weeks. I believe we’ll feel more valued and appreciated by revitalizing interpersonal and team recognition. I also think it will help us ensure we don’t see a spike in turnover, unhealthy tension like we’ve seen in the past, and perhaps other things that make us not as happy at work.

Can you see how it leads to clear communication and an overview of the issue, the context and the solution?

Rather than the frustration of in meetings, people bringing up the problem, and so much time being spent circling the drain on the issue, it allows for a starting point of discussion about opportunities, possibilities, and solutions.

Have you used SBAR? Any recommendations for us? Share below. What uses can you see for using SBAR to fuel your communication efforts?

Looking for more communication tips and strategies? Check out our microlearning course, Communication for Clarity and Confidence.

For more ideas on how to up your employee recognition, check out these resources:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
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Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

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Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

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Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

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