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.
Jason Rakowski says
I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.
Tina Russell says
I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.
I’ve actually taken a few psychology courses and I can see how the sandwich feedback technique works off positive reinforcement to improve the productivity of the team group. Pretty interesting read all together.
Good one, especially with the examples
The sandwich technique is horrible, It was done to me and I was confused by the mixwed message and very upset at the ingenuine behaviour from my manager. Dont use it because it teaches people you are deceitful
This is a bad technique. It teaches mistrust.
This sandwich technique is misleading. I mean If you want to give a criticism, you should give a criticism and give recommendation to the concerned person.
This post was extremely informative.
I feel you missed the point.
Keep up the good work.
Sam Chaudhuri says
The sandwich feedback technique as illustrated in the article can be improved if the criticism stands by itself even though it is sandwiched by praises. Criticism must not be lost in the sandwich by the praises. Criticism should be accentuated because the primary objective of the feedback is to improve his/her ability in doing certain job-related activities.
I learnt some new ideas today
Mufhadi Mbulaheni Richard says
I have learned that there are sandwich feedback and also the how to give feedback: the simple 3-step sandwich method.
Moreover, i have also learned three-step process for sharing criticism in a supprtive way.
Those steps are the following:
1. Step one: Appreciate the person
2. Step two: Challenge the behaviour
3. Step three: Support constructive change
I notice there seems to be a great amount of discontent from people in regard to using this feedback technique. I, for one, find it to be highly effective, but only when one masters the art of using the praise to create context and build confidence, as opposed to just giving random praise for unrelated behavior, with some unrelated issue we have placed in between.
A good example of properly used praise sandwich feedback would be:
“Andy, I just want you to know how fantastic your work has been, especially in the time following your visit to the workshop in New York!
I just want to point out that some of the expenses you reported from the trip do not meet our travel policy guidelines and unfortunately were not approved. The charges for the pay per view movies will not be reimbursed. Also, some of your meals seemed to be a bit higher in price than our policy allows for; but in this case those have been approved, taking into account that this is your first work-related trip for our organization.
We will get you a full copy of the travel policy from HR so you know the guidelines moving forward.
Again, You are doing amazing work and it does not go unnoticed. Your ability to learn new information and policy from this workshop tells me that this too will merely be a learning experience for you, so I am fully confident that future trips will be completely within the acceptable limits in regard to expense reimbursement. Keep up the good work! ”
The imortant thing to consider and keep in mind is that our ability to create context is always going to be the lynchpin when it comes to delivering critical feedback. We want to come from a place of understanding and solidarity; and our ability to make someone feel empowered that they have what it takes to fix the issue is what will uktimately make the response to our feedback effective, as opposed to deflective or defensive.
ali mohammadi says
this article is very good
Sharon Stewart says
Hi Nagesh, one of our teachers would dearly like to use your Sandwich Feedback Technique graphic, within a password protected educational tool. The graphic would only be used for educational non-commercial purposes and would be clearly attributed. The reason that this teacher would like to use this graphic is that she works with students with language difficulties and naturally finds that graphics and images make educational aims clearer for these students. The students would only be able to access the graphic via their password. We look forward to your reply?
William Angliss Institute
Ugochukwu Ohanyerenwa says
The sandwich technique can be very effective but you must know how to use it. If not used effectively, the message you are trying to get across, which face the fact, is the criticism, can be lost. It amounts to wasted time and effort should the individual fail to get this message. The homework for all who want to use it is to understand the individual and apply the technique in the most innovative way that will work. But it is a good technique and has a good side. Once you do it well, an understanding individual will look to the praise and agree that you are not just being critical for the sake of it but trying to correct something and will be less likely to be defensive.
Ramphaka Pontsho says
its true the constructive feedback help us improve our facilitation skills. In other words it build us and make us the best facilitators because whenever you get the constructive feedback, you will never repeat the same mistakes that you did before and it boast your confidence. i will use the sandwich feedback too.
About the feedback from others, what they suggested is right and it will help John.
kadeen ashmead says
I am giving an example of my own sandwich technique….
Praise: you did a really good job with grooming and bathing the patients.
Criticism: but i wish you. would clean up the bathroom after you do it it would really help me out alot.
Praise: all of your patients look so well groomed when you dress and fix them up you.
I like the article so much. I think the article was misinterpreted by some readers earlier because of the quality of the examples illustrated above. Bottom line I use the technic every day and speaking of my experience it is always effective when the manager expresses feedback with the highest level of sincerity
The Compliment Sandwich is the worst! My boss uses it and we all joke about it because you can hear it coming a mile away. What are we children? If i need to improve something i would prefer efficient, open, and honest communication. You do not need to invent something good to say to make yourself feel better. Assert yourself and be a boss for crying out loud!
Kevin L Gaskins says
I Learned a lot about the Sandwich is the best approach for me if my Boss uses it will help
Me out to improve my work skills and to become a better employee.
This “technique” almost always comes across as manipulative and the praise ends up sounding fake. When it is paired with poorly delivered criticism, it can cause a kind of trauma response to genuine praise, if the recipient is getting this sort of communication regularly. Lead by example, and ask people to do things a different way if you don’t like they way they’re currently doing them. I think a lot of managers think they can use this “technique” to put people down and be passive aggressive, and it’s okay because they said two nice things.
In my opinion this technique does not lead to increased performance. Usually people only remember the first and the last thing that is said. It is better to state the positives at the beginning and and state what behavior should and improve and what good behavior is at the end. That way, the employee will leave with clear objectives on what to change in her/his behavior
Nyeleti Hazel says
Constructive feedback is supportive feedback given to individuals to help identify solutions to areas of weakness they may have. therefore it comes with positive intentions and used as supportive communication tool to address specific issue or concerns.