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9 August 2013

The feedback sandwich method – would you use it?

Today a guest blog from Alison Wood, the Communications Manager and graphic designer for Knowledge Train, a London based project management training provider.
When working in any kind of management position, giving constructive criticism to your team is vital for the growth and success of the business, and to develop the team’s skills. As a project manager it is your responsibility to deliver products on time, which also means motivating and supporting your team in meeting those goals. Unless you had an absolutely golden team who were perfect from the word go, I’m not sure how goals would be met without constructive feedback along the way.

One way of giving constructive criticism is using the sandwich method, as seen in the infographic. It is a widely known technique that helps the manager remain sensitive to the employee’s feelings, and keep the atmosphere positive and motivating. Constructive criticism that is tactfully given is something of great importance to me, and I’ve eaten quite a few feedback sandwiches in my time. Although I think this is a tasty way of giving feedback, I was left with a different taste in my mouth when I introduced the topic to the online project management community. Please see below, to see what you make of this unsavoury reaction.

“Once you use the feedback sandwich method, every time you praise your employee they will be waiting for the slap in the face.”

Most humans are clever creatures and shouldn’t feel deceived by being given a feedback sandwich. If the manager is giving a feedback sandwich several times a day, then maybe they would become attuned to it. If the constructive and positive feedback is given in proportionate amounts, (and if the manager isn’t lying for the sake of something positive to say), then the employees should appreciate both sides of feedback and be raring to go the next day.

“A manager can’t play “Good Cop/Bad Cop.”

I don’t think there is any need for the manager to be acting in this way. If they are supporting the employee during the entire meeting on how to improve on the behaviour in question, then the atmosphere and tone should remain neutral throughout.

“The rule of thumb when giving feedback is to separate the behaviour from the person, to avoid any accusation. With this in mind, why would you need to “sandwich” the criticism between praise?”

I agree that separating the behaviour from the person is a must when giving feedback, to avoid the employee feeling personally criticised. This comment is highlighting a very good point, presuming that the employee reacts in the desired manner.

“The sandwich is simply a dishonest approach to giving feedback.”

A good manager should not lie to their employee about their strengths just for the sake of cushioning some constructive criticism. Every employee has strengths that make them good for the role, but not every employee recognises them. The feedback sandwich method addresses this and gives an all round perspective of the employee’s work.

“The impact of the criticism is going to be diminished if you squash it with praise. The employee is likely to forget about it by the end of the meeting.”

The negativity bias theory suggests that humans have selective attention towards negativity, placing more weight to negative information rather than positive. Taking this theory into account – I don’t think it’s likely that the employee is going to ignore the constructive criticism. I think the sandwich method uses the positive comments to support the criticism, to remind the employee of their strengths and how they are going to improve their behaviour. Without the supportive positive comments, there is a chance the employee could become defensive.

The feedback sandwich method is still a personal favourite of mine, obviously depending on the employee and the situation in question. Employees work harder when they feel supported by their manager. Now you have heard two sides of the story – what are your thoughts and experiences with the feedback sandwich?