By Leigh Ann Hubbard
The sandwich method of feedback is under attack. It ain’t cool no more. 😢 Here’s some LinkedIn chatter (emphasis mine):
“Ditch the sandwich method, people see right through it. 🥪”
“As a corporate leader, I never like to use the ❌’sandwich’ method. This is because the intended message for improvements get lost and both parties feel frustrated.”
“I used to like the sandwich method, however, have found it to be less effective than just being direct and focusing on the topic at hand.”
“We are tired of the “compliment sandwich”—negative feedback sandwiched between compliments. Sometimes, it even makes me anxious when I hear compliments knowing there might be a ‘but’ coming.”
Y’all. YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
What I mean to say is, you’re a great leader, and YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, and I enjoyed your last LinkedIn post about llamas.
I love the sandwich method. The sandwich method is my best friend. We hang out after school and throw rocks in the river. I understand the sandwich method.
And what y’all are doing ain’t it — or, shall we say, it’s not optimal use of the method. Your version (like my llama-tinged spiel) is bound to fail.
Done right, the sandwich method can be a powerful protectant against quiet quitting. Here’s why.
This Is Not the Sandwich Method (or Shouldn’t Be)
Hey, Sally Sue. I haven’t given you any specific, meaningful feedback for the last three months. But now I need to ask you to do something different. So I’m going to make up two crap, disingenuous compliments to sandwich my criticism in.
My real point is the criticism. But criticism is hard for me to give. So is specific praise. I’d rather you just KNOW WHAT TO DO. So I’m going to beat around the bush and make myself feel better. LISTEN TO MY CRITICISM. But nice job smiling at residents or whatever.
How to Do the Sandwich Method Right
The sandwich method is not about cushioning criticism in the most tiresome way possible. It should be …
- Part of a larger supportive culture where specific positive feedback (alone) is the norm, not odd
- A way to show appreciation and keep team members motivated
- A way to show team members you value their contributions and want to keep them around
Leaders today: “Everybody wants a pat on the back. I refuse. Grumble, grumble.”
Also leaders: “What’s this I hear about quiet quitting??!!”
The sandwich method, at its core, is about taking time to think about and appreciate your team member’s efforts.
This requires effort from you. It is easier to just think of what you want someone to change. It is harder to take a breath, sit down, and think about the things you genuinely appreciate.
It’s like feedback mindfulness.
If, every time you give someone positive feedback, they know a “but” is coming, that is not a sandwich feedback problem. That is a general feedback problem.
Most people usually only hear specific feedback from their bosses when something goes wrong. Oh, they might get a “thanks for working hard” or a “good job on that project” once in a while. But when it really gets specific — and therefore more impactful — is when it’s negative.
Here’s how that works on some people’s psyches:
I only hear from you, in a meaningful way, when I’ve done something wrong. I apparently can’t do much right. So why even try? I’m never going to win. I’m never going to be good enough. So I’ll just do enough to get by. Why put in more effort when my best has never been good enough so far?
That may sound like whining. But do you want to keep rolling your eyes, or do you want to keep your employees and motivate them to do their best?
Does Everybody Need the Sandwich Method?
My work language of appreciation is words of affirmation — hands-down.
So it’s possible that I’m a teensy bit biased. I love the sandwich method — done right — because positive feedback motivates me. Do we tend to give feedback the way we like to receive it? Probably.
I was also raised in the South, where not smiling at a stranger on the sidewalk will get you seven years to life.
And I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of feedback. In writing, marketing, and graphic design (my background), here’s the type of feedback you typically get:
DRAFT A: I don’t like that word. “What don’t you like about it?” It’s too specific.
DRAFT B: It’s wordy now. And the design is too creative. “What do you mean by ‘too creative’?” Use a different blue.
DRAFT C: Can we add five pages?
It is true that some people seem to not need positive feedback. I don’t understand those people.
One drawback to the sandwich method — or any feedback method — is nothing is optimal for everyone, and for every situation.
Some people would prefer you to get to the point so they can move on.
But that’s part of the deal with the sandwich method: “The point” should not just be the criticism. “The point” should be appreciation and motivation.
“The point” is giving thorough feedback.
The Best Feedback Method
Perhaps it’s best to have a variety of methods in your back pocket, and use whatever works best for that person in that moment.
I’ve been accused of giving too much positive feedback. It can be “ tiresome” and “annoying” to some “ungrateful” and all-around “terrible” “human beings.”
Meh, fine. I’ll work on shutting up sometimes, and you work on speaking up, and maybe we’ll meet in the middle.
You’re doing great, by the way!
I mean … you stink!
Oh yeah, man, we are pros already!
I mean … ack … I can’t stop!
Whatever. My method’s better than yours.
And you really are awesome. So there.
For a counterargument, see Steve Moran’s article, “Feedback Technique That Will Transform Your Organization.”