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Take the Feedback Sandwich Off of the Menu

I'm stopped right outside the conference room on our third day of speaking training. "Hey Jason, before you start giving feedback, know that this is a sensitive group and they are going to need the feedback sandwich. You know, positive, constructive feedback, positive."

I nod, pause in the doorway, and then ask a question I probably shouldn't have asked as a guest trainer being hired by an organization, "What if there aren't any positives?"

In almost every environment I've been in that has involved giving and receiving feedback, there was always one constant. Minutes before the feedback would commence a secret conversation would occur among those delivering the feedback agreeing to utilize the compliment sandwich.

While our intentions may have been to consider how to best serve those receiving feedback, what the research tells us is that this delivering this sandwich couldn't be a bigger disservice.

The first problem with the feedback sandwich is that most people employ it to spare themselves a potentially challenging conversation as the person giving feedback. We convince ourselves that a spoonful of sugar will make the medicine go down, but what we've learned is that the sugar completely drowns out the effect of the medicine altogether.

Important feedback positioned in the middle of a statement tends to be overshadowed by the content at the beginning (the primacy effect) or the end (the recency effect).

We are more likely to remember what is at the beginning or the end of any conversation, versus the middle.

The second, and maybe more important, problem with the feedback sandwich is that it diminishes the value of the constructive feedback as well as the positive feedback. Whenever you wish to deliver positive feedback to reinforce behavior, they'll simply anticipate something negative to follow.

People begin to doubt the genuinity of positive feedback when it always predicates something constructive.

Adam Grant says it best: "Giving a compliment sandwich might make the giver feel good, but it doesn’t help the receiver."

The next time you find yourself needing to deliver some feedback, try explaining why you want to deliver feedback and having a genuine conversation.

When it comes to serving feedback, most people are better off cutting out the carbs.



Make an effort to deliver positive and constructive feedback, on separate occasions, to the same person this week.


When looking for feedback, do you seek affirmation or advice?


“Withholding feedback is choosing comfort over growth. Staying silent deprives people of the opportunity to learn.” - Adam Grant

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