When To Lose The ‘Sandwich Method’ And Give Direct Criticism Instead

When To Lose The ‘Sandwich Method’ And Give Direct Criticism Instead
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No one wants to sound like a jerk when giving constructive criticism, but sometimes we bury the point when trying too hard to spare feelings. Dive straight to the point without sandwiching praise around it if the kindness in your delivery is muddling the message.

Picture: Micolo J/Flickr

It never helps to be mean to someone when trying to get them to do something, but delivering direct constructive criticism and being harsh aren’t always one and the same. Author and College Professor David Burkus recommends being specific with your criticism and suggestions for improvement, and doing so on a regular basis. He also explains why this is often better than the sandwich method:

In order to produce outstanding creative work, you need criticism. We regularly use criticism and conflict to make our ideas better and our projects stronger. That’s the reason the compliment sandwich is so ineffective. It works against us by making the criticism harder to comprehend, sandwich[ed] in between two vague and unrelated positives. You can wind up unsure of whether you’re going to be promoted or fired. Beyond that, if the criticism is sharp enough, it will make all of the positives feed insincere, again negating the purpose of delivering the feedback.

The sandwich method works well when you can still be direct and ensure the point gets across. But certain times, like when the criticism is being buried by unrelated praise, it’s less transparent and difficult to comprehend. When this happens it’s better to be forward.

Stop Serving The Compliment Sandwich [99u]


  • The sh*t sandwich feedback technique is hopeless. The underlying premise is well-intentioned but tends to dilute the opportunity for improvement. Typically, the real message is forgotten due to the positive close.

    I tend to use a modified Advocacy-Inquiry model of:
    1. This is what I saw/heard
    2. This is why I have a problem with that (usually referenced)
    3. Does that make sense? (invite self-reflection)
    4. Here are my expectations/suggestions for the future
    5. Any questions?

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