Communication: The Feedback Sandwich




For anyone not familiar, the “feedback sandwich” is a description of a way to give employee feedback. It’s shorthand for the practice of giving negative or constructive feedback by wrapping it with positive compliments (the bread that contains the meat)

Some people are critical of this practice, suggesting that it’s dubious, manufactures, and distracts from the true meaning of the conversation – the criticism or negative feedback.

The problem we have is that it’s not in our DNA as humans to take time out to focus on the positive. Early humans scanned the Serengeti for enemies trying to have us for dinner. We would not take time out to comment on the beautiful song of the nearby bird. This is not to say we haven’t learned – and that every one of has carries a kind message for our co-workers. However, in times of duress and pressure, we revert to our human nature, which is to look for threats and risk – and we tend to jump straight to addressing the threat, which is why I believe the feedback sandwich is a good practice.

That said, as with all good food, it’s best served over time. Parenting advice the world over recommends “catch your children doing something good” – and comment on it or reward them, unsolicited. The same is true for employees – when they do something right, say something. The problem we have goes back to our time living in caves – we are scanning for threats – and so time slips by, we miss the opportunity to comment on goodness, and when something goes wrong, we are in urgent need of providing critical or negative feedback.

To the employee, this feels like the manager only sees the negative, which may not be true, the manager saw the positive, but just didn’t take the time to call it out.

Which brings us back to the feedback sandwich as a recommended antidote. As Sam Levenson said “In One Era and Out the Other”, “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.”

Managers and HR professionals need to go out of their way to call out positive work because it’s not a natural human tendency. If and when we forget, the feedback sandwich is a good practice to make sure we stay balanced and constructive feedback is taken with the right measure.



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