The "sandwich" method of feedback, where you squish criticism between compliments to smooth it over, is played out and everyone knows it. Most of us cringe when we hear someone suggest it, and even when it works, it's obvious. Adam Grant, author and professor, says it's time to just give it up, and we agree.
We've mentioned it before, and of course, dropping the method isn't a reason to be a jerk when you deliver criticism, but most of us can see through the feedback "sandwich" (sometimes called "the hamburger method") for what it is, and would appreciate more direct honesty instead.
But when I looked at the data, I learned that the feedback sandwich doesn't taste as good as it looks. Problem 1: the positives fall on deaf ears. When people hear praise during a feedback conversation, they brace themselves. They're waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it makes the opening compliment seem insincere. You didn't really mean it; you were just trying to soften the blow. Problem 2: if you avoid that risk and manage to be genuine about the positives, they can drown out the negatives. Research shows that primacy and recency effects are powerful: we often remember what happens first and last in a conversation, glossing over the middle. When you start and end with positive feedback, it's all too easy for the criticism to get buried or discounted. Giving a compliment sandwich might make the giver feel good, but it doesn't help the receiver.
He then goes into some tips to help you deliver more credible, direct and honest feedback, especially when it's difficult to give. Some of it starts with just asking the person if they want it -- after all, sometimes people don't want to hear what you have to say, even if you know you have to tell them. Even so, he notes that every time he's actually asked, no one has ever seriously declined.
He also suggests taking yourself off the pedestal when delivering feedback -- you're offering your opinions and perspectives, not putting yourself in a superior position. To that point, he also recommends you make your feedback a conversation, not a monologue, even though it might be tempting to just have your say and be done with it. All good suggestions, especially the next time your coworkers or family members ask for your opinion on something, or your thoughts on their work.
Stop Serving the Feedback Sandwich [LinkedIn]