Harness the Power of Narrative Patterns

The way we communicate in the course of our work has a significant impact on our influence as professionals. A compelling narrative draws people in, fosters understanding, and ultimately influences their perception. I’ve noticed that patterns commonly recommended for delivering feedback, résumé impact statements, and behavioral interview responses share similar narrative arcs. These can be generalized into a single, powerful tool for describing impact.

I’ll explore the similarities between common recommended methods in this space, my preferred phrasing, and how I think about applying the tool in different situations.


Let’s begin by describing a few patterns you may have heard of.

The Situation, Behavior, Impact (SBI) pattern is described as a tool for offering constructive feedback:

  • Situation: Provide context by describing the setting or environment.
  • Behavior: Explain the behavior you observed.
  • Impact: Share how this behavior affected you or the situation.

The Problem, Action, Results (PAR) pattern is described as a method for answering behavioral interview questions

  • Problem: Identify a specific issue or challenge that you faced.
  • Action: Elucidate on the actions you took to address the problem.
  • Results: Conclude by detailing the outcomes or impact of your actions.

The Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR) pattern is described as a method for creating impactful descriptions of your experience on your resume

  • Situation: Provide context on the problem, need, or conflict.
  • Task: Describe your task or responsibility in the situation.
  • Action: Describe what you did — use action verbs.
  • Result: Detail the outcomes for affected people, organizations, etc.

Generalizing the Patterns

I prefer to call on fewer, more generalized tools rather than try to recall different word sets with roughly the same meaning for different situations. I need something easy to recall in the moment. So pick your favorite words from this set and commit them to memory. The SBI pattern has stuck with me so I’ll use those terms for the remainder of the post.

Situation, Behavior, Impact

When I need to share a narrative, I recall these words and use them as my checklist to help me communicate the whole picture to my audience.

Application in Different Situations

Generalizing the pattern makes it easier to recall in the moment, but there are still considerations to keep in mind when you’re engaging in different types of communication. Most of the situational differences are the packaging around the narrative — how you set up before the story, and what follows the story — and the level of specificity in the story. Let’s examine a few examples.


With feedback, start the conversation by asking if you can share some feedback or state your reasons for wanting to share the feedback. Begin with a narrative that describes a specific instance of behavior rather than sharing generalizations. This is true for both reinforcing and corrective feedback. For example:

When we were in the client presentation today, I noticed text and Slack messages popping up while you were presenting. They were distracting to me and detracted from the otherwise very polished presentation you put together.

Here, the situation was the client presentation, and the behavior was the notifications coming up during a presentation. Finally, the impact was that it distracted the presenter and others. This is just the starting point for a feedback conversation, which should lead to asking for the feedback recipient’s perception of the situation and exploration of any next steps or changes needed.

Impactful descriptions of your work

Use the same pattern when you’re communicating your impact at work while writing a resume or making a case for a promotion. The order is slightly different in the example below, leading with the action rather than the situation to emphasize the action.

Facilitated establishment of development team practices that create more learning opportunities for team members across a broad range of time zones, leading to significant improvement in team capabilities in areas including TDD, troubleshooting, use of TypeScript types, Terraform, and code reviews.

In this impact statement, the situation was a lack of learning opportunities for team members; the behavior was the establishment of development team practices; the impact was a significant improvement in team capabilities in various areas.

Responding to Interview Questions

We love to ask questions that get candidates to tell stories in an interview. For example, “Tell us about a time you supported a teammate at work.” The Situation, Behavior, Impact pattern ensures you tell the whole story and helps listeners understand your value. For example, a response to the former question could look like this:

I was on a project with a technical lead where we needed to write a lot of stories for the backlog in a short time. I could tell they were stressed by it. That’s something I’m good at, so I offered to pair with them on that task and help get it done. We cleared the plan with our scrum master since it would affect my velocity for the sprint, and then we split up the features and got to work. In the end, we got the stories written in time to keep the team fed for the next sprint and turned a potentially stressful task into something we enjoyed doing together.

Stories like this provide a lot of angles for follow-up questions and digging into more detail.

Elevator Pitch for Your Impact

An elevator pitch can also follow this streamlined pattern to succinctly encapsulate your skills and impact without diverging into minute details. The level of specificity here is much different because we’re trying to summarize many narratives into a single, generalized narrative.

When I work with software product team leaders, I share candidly from my 20+ years of technical and team leadership experience to build plans together that empower them to lead their teams effectively and build confidence in their own skillset.

As with the other two examples, we can break this down as follows: Situation: working with software product team leaders. Behavior: sharing experience and collaborating on plans. Results: enabling leaders to lead their teams effectively and build confidence in their own skills.

A supportive anecdote can strengthen the potency of the elevator pitch:

For example, I worked with our mobile team as they were starting an evaluation of an inherited application’s quality. I shared resources from past evaluation efforts, consulted with them on drawing stronger ties to industry best practices, and collaborated with them to form an improvement project plan with monthly deliverable targets. The report was well received and built support for the need to invest in improvements they identified. We’re currently executing the improvement plan.

The Power of Narrative

The commonality between these narrative patterns allows us to generalize a memorable and powerful framework in many situations. Following this simple framework can not only aid you in sharing your skills and achievements effectively but also help you provide meaningful feedback to others, fostering a productive work environment.


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