Many organizations are working hard to create a culture where their employees can give and receive performance improvement feedback comfortably and kindly.
The feedback sandwich or “compliment sandwich” has long been recommended as a strategy for giving positive and negative feedback in management development and consulting.
The compliment sandwich method is an effective way to give feedback, but it isn’t the best approach for everyone.
It is a good way to provide constructive criticism, but it’s not the best approach for everyone.
Some people might find the structure of the sandwich confusing, especially if the person giving feedback misapplies it.
It helps to know when it’s the right time to put it to use. In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of this type of feedback as well as a few hot tips on how to deliver it effectively.
What Is A Feedback Sandwich?
Just as a sandwich filled with tasty ingredients is made with positive feedback between two slices of bread, a feedback sandwich is made with negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.
The idea behind this method is to give criticism after praise in a way that makes it easier to hear negative feedback and more likely to be accepted by the employee receiving the feedback.
A compliment sandwich is a great way to provide feedback because it allows you to deliver your thoughts without offending or upsetting the person you’re giving feedback to.
It also helps you provide a very clear and constructive criticism, which is often much more effective than simply trying to tear something down (“That was terrible!!”)
When giving feedback, it’s important to make sure the person you’re talking to is receptive.
The feedback sandwich helps with this by beginning with positive feedback, then mentioning a piece of negative feedback, then ending on a positive note.
Pros And Cons Of The Feedback Sandwich Method
Like any method of communication, the sandwich method of feedback has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Check out these pros and cons to see whether or not this method is appropriate for you.
Benefits Of The Feedback Sandwich
It makes negative feedback easier to hear.
The biggest benefit of the feedback sandwich is that it softens the emotional impact of criticism.
No one likes to be told what they’re doing wrong even the most confident employee can start second-guessing themselves if they receive too much negative feedback.
By pairing the negative with the positive, you remind employees that their strengths vastly outweigh their weaknesses.
This can help them maintain perspective when being shown areas of improvement.
It makes negative feedback easier to give.
Just as no one likes to be criticized, very few people like to give criticism. It takes a certain amount of objectivity and detachment to be able to tell another human being that they’re doing something wrong.
Even people whose job it is to critique other people can struggle with giving negative feedback on a consistent basis.
The feedback sandwich makes it easier to provide open and honest feedback by giving you an opportunity to focus on the good as well as the bad.
This can train you to become more adept at identifying areas of improvement in an objective manner.
It also helps you to acknowledge people’s strengths at the same time.
It reminds employees of their strengths.
Human nature causes us to focus on our own shortcomings and take our strengths for granted.
On any given day, we’ll remember the one thing we did wrong over the 20 things we did right.
Compliment sandwiches boost our self-esteem by reminding us on a regular basis of the areas in which we shine.
This confidence boost makes it easier to believe that we have the ability to overcome our weaknesses and grow no matter what.
It allows things to end on a positive note.
People tend to remember the way something ended much more strongly than how it began, which is why it’s important to end every meeting on a positive note.
The sandwich allows you to part on good terms, which makes the person receiving feedback much more inclined to act on it rather than ignore it.
When you make the compliment sandwich the standard form of communication, you train your employees to expect positive feedback instead of anticipating constant criticism.
It strengthens the tunnel of communication.
Communication skills are one of the most important tools in our lives. Whether we’re communicating with a boss, a colleague, or a partner, open and honest communication is necessary for a functional relationship.
When you’re too afraid to give negative feedback or you’re overly critical, you risk harming your relationships.
The feedback sandwich makes you a better communicator. It shows your employees that you will always be honest and they can be honest in return.
Drawbacks Of The Feedback Sandwich
It can sometimes come across as unclear.
One of the potential downsides of the feedback sandwich is that it can potentially cause confusion.
It requires three clearly defined segments, but poor communicators can often blur the lines between the compliments and the criticisms.
This leads an employee to hear something like “You’re doing great, except you really aren’t, although maybe it’s not so bad.”
Make sure that your compliment sandwich is clearly defined, specific, and most of all, actionable.
It can spoil positive feedback.
Another potential downside of the feedback sandwich is that it can ruin any positive feedback you’re looking to give.
If you only ever give such feedback, you might inadvertently train people to think that every compliment you give is hiding a secret criticism.
The goal of the feedback is to soften the blow of negative criticism, not weaken positive feedback.
Make an effort to give out positive feedback on its own every now and then.
This will remind people that sometimes, you really have nothing but good things to say.
It can appear disingenuous.
It’s important to choose significant pieces of feedback to use as the individual ingredients.
If both of your compliments are weak, then they’ll only add insult to injury when you deliver the criticism.
For example, imagine if the feedback sandwich you received was:
- Thank you for always being on time!
- Your work is seriously subpar and if you don’t improve, we may need to fire you.
- You always dress professionally.
While this is an extreme example, do you see how the positive feedback pales in comparison to the negative?
If your work is so subpar, who cares how you dress?
Each piece of feedback should be roughly equal in comparison, otherwise the person receiving it is going to feel manipulated.
It may not translate cross-culturally.
Cultural differences may prevent the compliment sandwich from being truly effective. While such feedback has many strengths, it is primarily suitable for the Western style of communication.
Americans are used to hearing feedback in a certain way, while employees from other cultures may interpret the information in a totally different manner.
You want to avoid confusion at all costs with the feedback sandwich, otherwise you risk creating distrust in your employees.
Test the waters to see how it impacts each of your employees.
If you can tell it’s not working, you might want to try a different method of communication with that person.
It can increase anxiety among employees.
This drawback is primarily dependent on how confidently you deliver the compliment sandwich.
If you’re nervous, stumbling over your words, or speaking in riddles, then you’ll only make things worse for the person getting the feedback.
Try practicing the feedback sandwich by yourself before testing it out for the first time.
If you like, you can write down bullet points to refer to during your meeting so you stay on track.
As long as you’re communicating clearly, respectfully, and with empathy, then you’ll be sure to pull off the sandwich effectively.
Tips On How A Feedback Sandwich Can Work Effectively
If you’re considering adopting the sandwich method of feedback, then it’s more important to understand how to do it effectively.
Here are a few tips to consider when giving a compliment sandwich:
Give constructive criticism
While a feedback sandwich does allow for negative feedback, this should be tailored in a way to be as constructive as possible.
“You’re doing terribly” is not only vague, it’s unhelpful. All criticism should be clear and constructive, leaving the recipient with clear direction on how to move forward.
For example, “Your work is sloppy and unprofessional” could be delivered as “I’d like to see a more polished product.
Perhaps you could spend more time on the review process before turning things in, or let us know if you need an extension on the deadline.”
This is clear and constructive, making it easier for the recipient to change their behavior to meet your needs.
Make additional suggestions for improvement
Don’t be afraid to make suggestions on what changes the recipient can make to improve. Sometimes people need extra guidance in order to learn from constructive criticism.
By providing the person with a few ideas on how to improve, you give them an opportunity to show you that they’ve heard your feedback and they’re taking steps to change their behavior.
That way, if they try your suggestions and still don’t meet their goals, you can then work together to give them the tools they need to succeed.
Have a strategy prepared ahead of time
It’s easy to lose track of things during the discussion and veer off course. Nothing derails a compliment sandwich more than rambling about something off-topic.
Try to have a plan drawn out ahead of time for what you’re going to say, and include opportunities for the person to respond.
You might want to consider the different ways they’ll respond and come up with your own way of dealing with that.
For example, if your criticism is about lateness, you might anticipate that they’ll have questions about how often they’ve been late and by how long.
Having this information on hand ahead of time can make the process easier to navigate.
Practice civil discourse
Civil discourse is a powerful tool designed to have difficult conversations in an open and respectful manner.
What’s more difficult than telling someone what they’re doing wrong?
To practice civil discourse, make sure you give both sides ample opportunity to speak.
Don’t interrupt the other person when they’re speaking, and listen carefully to what they say before formulating your own response.
Practice active listening
You may come in with an idea of what negative feedback you want to give, but then something they say makes you realize you had things all wrong.
Be open to input from the feedback recipient and you might find that you’ll come to a solution together.
What Do Real Life Feedback Sandwich Situations Look Like?
Feedback sandwiches don’t always work out in certain real life situations.
Some people have selective perception where they tune out the negative feedback and only hear the positives.
For example, let’s say you give someone such feedback:
- You’re always so dependable.
- You need to keep me in the loop with updates about work projects.
- You have an excellent attitude.
If the employee has selective perception, they might not understand the negative criticism in the middle.
You may want better communication about work projects, but all they’ve heard is how dependable they are and what a great attitude they have.
Try to make sure your negative criticism is distinct from the positive feedback, and that it doesn’t contradict it.
The feedback sandwich can be a great tool for making constructive criticism a natural part of the workday.
Consider these tips to see whether or it meets to your needs.