This article presents the popular ‘compliment sandwich technique’ for giving interpersonal feedback. Tomorrow’s follow-up article will critique this method and discuss three common mistakes that render the sandwich technique ineffective.
These discussions and examples focus on manager-to-employee feedback. This analysis is, however, relevant to other interpersonal contexts—between peers or spouses, for instance.
Managers Often Resent Giving Corrective Feedback
Feedback is a central component of the manager-employee relationship. Often, managers are reluctant resent giving corrective (or negative) feedback. They assume employee defensiveness and fear that negative feedback will offend the employee and thus affect their rapport with the employee. Such managers are likely to withhold criticism. They fail to provide timely, relevant feedback in various circumstances, from employee tardiness to inappropriate attire (especially if the employee is of the opposite gender.)
Sandwich Feedback & Purported Benefits
The sandwich feedback technique is a popular three-step procedure to help managers who are ill at ease with providing corrective feedback. The sandwich feedback method consists of praise followed by corrective feedback followed by more praise. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.
The purported benefits of this technique are twofold: (1) it softens the impact of the criticism or corrective feedback, and, (2) given that a manager is probably more comfortable with praising the employee, the manager finds it easier to discuss problems with the employee’s behavior if this discussion begins and ends with praising the employee.
Compliment Sandwich Feedback: Example 1
Suppose that Andy, a new employee at a financial services firm, attended a week-long, offsite training program in New York. Each night during his stay at a hotel, Andy purchased on-demand movies in his room. He included the corresponding $65 charge in his expense report. Andy also dined at very pricey restaurants.
Jean, Andy’s manager, received the expense report for approval. Clearly, the charge for the movies had no business-justification. Jean uses the sandwich feedback technique to decline reimbursement for this expense and instruct Andy to be more prudent about expenses when traveling:
- Praise: “Andy, I am impressed with your development since you joined my team last month. You have used the skills you learned during your training in New York to systematically review our customer’s accounts.”
- Criticism: “By the way, earlier this morning, I was reviewing the expense report from your trip to New York. I notice a $65 charge for on-demand movies. I have to deny this expense since it has no business-justification. I also noticed very expensive meals. I will approve these charges this time. Given our limited travel budgets, I would ask you to be more careful about your trip expenses. You are probably not aware of our company’s travel policy. I have asked Human Resources to give you a copy of our travel policy booklet that details the acceptable expense report practices.”
- Praise: “I am glad you were able to use the skills you learned at this training in New York. I appreciate your hard work and persistence with this customer. Keep up the good work.”
Compliment Sandwich Feedback: Example 2
Assume Sofia led a brainstorming meeting for an important project. Habitually, Sofia does not circulate the agendas prior to the meetings she leads. After one such meeting, Sofia’s manager uses the sandwich feedback technique to persuade her to be more organized:
- Praise: “Sofia, we had a very productive meeting. We had the right participants and collected all the necessary inputs from other departments. Thanks for your coordination.”
- Criticism: “Did you notice that the discussions were unsystematic? When you do not distribute an agenda prior to the meeting, the participants do not come prepared. During the meeting, they have to go back to their desks to collect information. Additionally, we tend to spend a lot of time digressing from the meeting objectives. How can you avoid this?” A discussion ensues.
- Praise: “You are doing so well with gathering all the inputs. I am pleased about your diligence in circulating minutes of your meetings and following-up on action items. “
The sandwich feedback technique enables a manager to restructure feedback so it is easier to deliver. The technique also reinforces good behavior and asks for improvements.
Tomorrow’s article will discuss, with simple examples, three common mistakes that defeat the purpose of sandwiching corrective feedback between two layers of praise. In summary, it’s best to be direct when giving feedback, because the compliment sandwiches are easily spotted as inauthentic.