Please, don´t put your feedback in a sandwich!

von Marion Ehmann

I had called a colleague to ask a few clarifying questions and give her feedback on the part of the due diligence report she had written for a project I was leading. It was getting a bit late and I said “I saved your part of the report for last because I knew that you are good and that I could more or less paste it directly into my master report with a minimum of adjustments and questions.” Her reply astonished me: “But…??”. I had not meant to say “but” and no reason to do so. The same happened a couple of time when I complimented a restaurant waiter about the good food or the salespeople at my favorite deli for their delicious sausage “Oh, thank you! I was just waiting for you to say “but”…” It´s not that I throw around compliments and I also complain when I think I have a reason to do so, but sometimes I just want to say: This was a great piece of work (or sausage) and it made my work life easier (or my dinner more delicious). Obviously these people have been fed too many feedback sandwiches. This is a method that used to be taught and sometimes, unfortunately, still is. The sandwich method means that you put so-called constructive (aka negative) feedback between two pieces of positive feedback (I have always found this metaphor strange: isn´t the middle part of a sandwich supposed to be the yummy part?). The problem with the sandwich approach is that it doesn´t work. It makes your feedback highly ineffective and might even have a negative impact on the relationship with the person you are giving feedback to, for several reasons: Firstly, sandwiched feedback is muddled and unclear and you don´t even know which part of it will be truly heard by the recipient. A self-critical person will probably focus on the negative part and forget the rest, while a very confident person will hear the positive message and disregard the middle part ...

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