How to use the Sandwich Method to Make Constructive Feedback Palatable

There’s no such thing as perfection when you are dealing with people.  Inevitably, something will go wrong.  After all, we’re only human.   As mistakes and errors happen, good teams get better by talking about what occurred and finding ways to improve.

But calling someone out for an error can be as hard to do as it is to hear.  In this post, we’ll talk about how to use the sandwich method to get that tough message across in a way that reduces the chance of indigestion.

The Sandwich Method

The Sandwich Method

Are you in the midst of rehearsing for something big?  Talking with a teammate about something that went wrong?  Reviewing with the team how a recent event unfolded?  These are all times when you might need to deliver some “constructive feedback.”  It’s important to pause and reflect after you do something big, as we talk about in this video.

Being objective and critical is key to improving, but it can also make people uncomfortable, defensive, and unwilling to listen.  So how do you get your message across without getting everyone upset?  Use the Sandwich Method.

Just as a sandwich is two slices of bread with some meat in the middle (or PBJ or whatever), your approach to delivering constructive criticism can be built the same way.  Here’s how it works:

First Slice of Bread:  Positive feedback

Start with genuine praise for something the person did well.  This sets a positive tone, and makes them more receptive to what you have to say.

Try to be specific; focus on what they did and how it was a good thing.

Example:

Bob, I wanted to point out how well organized I thought you were for the cookout this afternoon: you had all the charcoal, utensils, and condiments you needed, the burgers and dogs were ready to go on time, and your crew really seemed to know what they were doing. 

Those checklists you made seem like they really did the trick. It made me feel great to see how well your were representing the club.

The Meat:  Constructive Feedback

Next, deliver your constructive feedback thoughtfully.  Be sure to focus on the behavior or action, and not on the person – you’re not trying to change who the person is, just what they did.

Delivering feedback? Talk about what they did, not who they are. Click To Tweet

Stick to the facts and how they made you feel.

Example:

As good as the cookout was, Bob, I don’t feel that the cleanup went very well.  There was trash all over the pavilion and some of our guests ended up having to help. 

If we don’t leave the place clean like we found it, we might not be able to use it next year, and having the guests cleaning up makes all of us look bad. 

For the next event, maybe you could add cleaning supplies to your list, and be sure to recruit a couple teammates to help out when the cooking is done.

Second Slice of Bread:  End on a High Note

Follow up with a second positive comment.  This continues the tone you set at the beginning, reassuring your teammate that your goal is not to tear him down.

Overall, I’m pleased at how well the cookout ended up and thankful that you were able to put so much energy into it.  With you in charge, I’m sure that next year’s event will be even better.  Thanks for your help.

Using the Sandwich Method, you can get your point across without alienating your teammate.  By squeezing the critical part between two slices of positive feedback, you have complimented them twice, and ended the discussion on a high note.

Use the sandwich method to get your point across without alienating your teammate. Click To Tweet

A Sandwich is Not Always the Best Meal

There’s a caution with this approach – don’t let it be the only option on your leadership menu.

Sometimes you need to be more concerned about clearly fixing an improper behavior.  If the problem you are dealing with has to do with misconduct, safety, or the baseline behavioral standards of your organization, then you have to be crystal clear.  Toss the bread and serve them the meat straight.

Hey, Bob – you know that pouring lighter fluid directly on an open flame is really dangerous.  Don’t do that again; you are putting everyone at risk.

When talking about baseline standards, the leader has to be crystal clear. Click To Tweet

Sandwich Method – The Takeaway

Giving constructive feedback can be difficult, but if your team is going to improve, you have to get the message across in a way that the other person is willing to listen.

Using the sandwich method, your constructive comment comes between two positives.  This framework will go a long way to making them receptive to your suggestions and willing to act on them.

For this to be effective, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that all you say should be genuine.  And don’t let this be the only trick in your book, or they will start to think that every time you praise them, a criticism is sure to follow – not what you want!

Don't always follow a praise with a criticism or the praise will lose its effect. Click To Tweet

And finally, remember that as a leader, you have to be open and receptive to constructive feedback, too!

In fact, Bonus Tip here:  if you set the tone of the discussion by inviting constructive feedback about your own actions, your teammates will be all the more willing to accept it when it is directed at them.

If you show that you are open to constructive input, your team will be too. Click To Tweet

Question: How willing to be open and honest would you be if your leader is deaf to criticism?

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2 thoughts on “How to use the Sandwich Method to Make Constructive Feedback Palatable”

  1. This is the same model for constructive criticism that is used in the CAP leadership books. I have one thing to add though: criticize in a private setting. It could be devastating for “Bob’s” morale if you criticized him in front of all his friends on the team. In general, criticize in private, praise in public.

    1. Great observation, Alvin, and that’s good guidance in general: praise in public, criticize in private. Thanks for the input!

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