Communication Advice: Serve a Feedback Sandwich

In the spirit of this most food-focused of all American holidays, our first communication tip to kick off the series is:

Serve a feedback sandwich.

When offering an opinion or appraisal, try beginning with a positive observation, followed by some constructive feedback (i.e. a suggestion; notice how I didn’t say “critical” feedback), and then close again with a positive comment.

This has multiple purposes. It forces you:

  • To plan ahead (and not just fire off from the mouth).
  • To be deliberate in your choice of words.
  • To come up with more good things to say than bad, which in turn may make your critique easier to receive.

Always ending on an up note boosts morale. It also trains you not to be such a Debbie Downer – Nobody likes a Debbie Downer. Even if your co-workers could stand to improve, their current skills and effort should still be praised. People need to know what they are doing right if they are expected to produce more of that.

The Caveat

This tool does come with a very specific provision. You’re not allowed to use the words:

  • but
  • however
  • although
  • having said that
  • …or any variation of this adverb

Why? Because it contrasts, and by design, will negate any bright spots in your remarks. An example. You’re a coach. Now, imagine your post-game talk with the little ones of a pee wee football team coming off the field from a 14-0 loss.

“Great job on the defensive playing. But next time let’s focus on completing passes. Although, we’ve been training hard on our conditioning and today’s game showed that.”

You tell me. Trust your gut. Even if you don’t know the first thing about football (I know very little about the game myself), would you walk away feeling good about this feedback? The words “but” and “however” have this sharp ability to just make everything all bad. Let’s remove those contradicting words and magically we get:

“Great job on the defensive playing! Next time let’s focus on completing passes. We’ve been training hard on our conditioning and today’s game showed that.”

The difference in tone from simply omitting these few words is remarkable. It takes time to perfect. Practice using the feedback sandwich. Get in the habit and you’ll benefit from its effects in no time!

Have variations of or experiences with the feedback sandwich? Let us know. Do you know teachers or managers that can use these tips? Feel free to share them! Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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2 responses to “Communication Advice: Serve a Feedback Sandwich”

  1. […] hope you’ve had a few opportunities to practice the feedback sandwich that we discussed in the last post. It’s a powerful tool to keep in the kit. Until you get the hang of it, it’s okay that it may […]

  2. […] you combine what you’ve learned in this post with the previous two (Feedback Sandwich and Presentation 101), you too will have the exact communication tools that I was trained to use […]

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