Friday, April 12, 2013

Feedback sandwiches all round – why I like the “sandwich method”, by Alison Wood

As a previous team leader, an employee, someone who strives for positive thinking and perfection within my career – I very much embrace and support the ‘sandwich method’ for giving constructive feedback. I feel that constructive criticism should be an opportunity for motivation, reflection and a reminder of what we are really capable of. This is why I favour the sandwich method – two pieces of bread (positive comments) with the meat (feedback or constructive criticism) nicely in between.

Constructive Criticism Sandwich
by Knowledge Trains
As every manager has their own technique, I’m guessing some may not favour the sandwich technique for a few reasons – that it is simply ‘sugar-coating’ criticism, tainting the importance of the matter in hand or that it may confuse the employee with too much information at once. Every employee and situation is different – but here is why the sandwich works for me. You can check how it works with this  infographic from Knowledge Train that shows how the process goes.

Why I think the sandwich technique leaves employees hungry to work harder

It is human instinct to focus on the negative more than the positive, experience more distress from loss than from gain, so negative feedback generally has more impact on us than positive feedback. Take this into account and look at the art of the sandwich technique. Stressing to the feedback receiver about their strong points and why you have faith in them, can help to motivate them to take your action points and prove themselves to you. A purely negative atmosphere during a meeting is not likely to motivate anybody.
Remember that old saying “Never sleep on an argument”? Well I think giving feedback should be the same. Leaving the situation on a positive note with action points, targets and follow up dates will leave a positive taste in the mouth of the employee (it is a sandwich after all).

Is the sandwich technique too kind?

I don’t think it is too kind, but in order to get the best performance out of an employee I think it is important to boost morale. As I was saying previously, humans tend to focus more on the negative anyway, so I don’t think that giving praise is likely to gloss over the constructive feedback. I think that a strong, honest relationship between a manager and employee is very important - but also a positive working atmosphere buzzing with enthusiasm. I don’t believe that the sandwich technique is not about overly praising the employee so they feel they are being buttered up or deceived.

How the sandwich tasted for me

At the beginning of my career I worked in a target driven role and as a result had performance reviews pretty regularly. These could have become quite de-motivating if the sandwich technique was not used and to be honest, I probably would have resigned due to lack of confidence in my ability for the job. The sandwich technique helped to remind me of my capabilities and the reasons why I was chosen for the role, while feeding back to the criticism and driving me forward. My manager taught me to both give and receive feedback professionally without becoming emotionally involved.
We practiced the sandwich technique (sometimes without the bottom part of the bread) both manager-to-employee and employee-to-manager. The ultimate rule was that you weren't allowed to react in front of the other person, which made the situation constructive and professional. The language that was used helped to make the review a positive and motivating one by using phrases such as “I’d like it if you did more of this”, and not separating the bread and meat with “but” or “however”.
The sandwich technique may not be universal for all situations but for general feedback I think it wins hands-down. Receiving criticism is hardly ever something we will look forward to, so why not make it a bit tastier?

What are your thoughts on giving feedback sandwiches and what techniques do you use?

Infographic from

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Alison Wood works as the Communications Manager and graphic designer for Knowledge Train, a London based Project Management training provider.

1 comment:

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