3 Reasons to Stop Serving the Feedback Sandwich

As a kid, I remember a list of edicts adults shared to keep us safe (and possibly scare us a bit as well). My favorites — and the ones I still remember today — include how long you must wait after eating to swim, the dangers of touching toads and the shelf life of gum in your stomach.

Before handing these declarations down to my descendants, I did some research to check on their truth and accuracy. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that most of these statements are flat-out lies.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is all too common. We hear something from a source we believe to be credible, and thanks to the way our brains work, we tend to believe and hold on to it as truth, even when confronted with new facts and information.

A professional example of this in action is the famous “feedback sandwich.” On more than one occasion I’ve heard a coworker share this model as an effective way to give someone feedback.

The model is pretty straightforward: Start off with a positive statement (the first slice of bread in the feedback sandwich), share your constructive feedback (the meat of the sandwich) and finish on a positive note (the final slice of bread). While the overall popularity of this model has decreased, I still hear it referenced as an effective model and see people sharing it with others.

See also: 3 Tips for Coaching Your Team

So before passing this flawed approach on — or if you hear others doing the same — here are three reasons to take the feedback sandwich method off your management menu.

Leader giving feedback about employees work in an office.

1. Can You Hear Me Now?

Our brains love to be right and actively seek out information to confirm this narrative. So when we hear something that challenges us (the constructive feedback) sandwiched between two pieces of information that confirms our greatness (the positive “bread’), there’s a good chance that we lose the power and effectiveness of the feedback we’re trying to provide. In our effort to make the recipient feel better, we’re actually making it harder for them to be better.

2. What’s Next?

If this model is one of your “go to” techniques, you’ve probably quickly conditioned your people that positive feedback is usually followed by negative feedback. So even when you truly are trying to simply provide recognition for something done well, many of your people are already bracing for the natural follow up of where they can improve. And knowing how important recognition is to results and engagement, you don’t want to be doing things that are going to sabotage those efforts.

Strong leader giving employee feedback during a one-on-one meeting at work

3. Do You Care?

Giving constructive feedback can be difficult. But not only do the majority of employees welcome it when done properly and believe it fuels performance, it’s one of the best ways to show people you care about them. It clearly demonstrates you care enough about their long-term success that you’re willing to be open and honest with them about what you’re seeing. By being direct with your feedback, you’re sending a strong message that you trust and respect this person enough to enter into these types of conversations. Kim Scott’s Radical Candor model is a great way to understand the balance between caring deeply and challenging directly if you want to dig in further.

So rather than packaging your feedback into a sandwich, here are some simple steps to deliver feedback.

Model it yourselfStart asking people for feedback on yourself. Ask how you can improve both in general and after specific circumstances. If you can show you’re humble and open to feedback, you can help set the right standard for your team and co-workers.

Ask permission — Approach the person and ask them if you can share some feedback with them on something you’re either seeing or experiencing. This a great opportunity to let them know you want to share it with them because you care about them.

Be specific — Rather than speak in generalities, provide a clear explanation of what you saw. Do your best to avoid editorializing it and just stick to the facts. Explain how you felt rather than trying to suggest how others or the person themselves may have felt.

So what — Connect the feedback to a greater purpose so they can understand why it’s important and the impact it could be having on them or others around them. If you can help them see the bigger picture, the person is going to be more likely to want to improve.

Close the loop — Reiterate that you’re sharing the feedback because you want to help the other person improve. Remind them that you’re open to their feedback — including feedback on how you give feedback — and encourage them to share what they’re seeing with you.

Giving Better Feedback

If you can create a culture where feedback is welcomed and regularly delivered both directly and with care, you’ll unlock a force that will improve engagement, performance and results within your teams and organizations.

So don’t be afraid to hop into the pool right after lunch (don’t worry, you won’t drown because of it) and equip yourself with the tools you need to deliver powerful feedback without the help of a feedback sandwich.

Read next: What is 360-Degree Feedback and How Can it Make You a More Effective Leader?


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