The Sandwich Method

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Have you ever had someone offer you “constructive criticism”? I’m guessing at some point you have. How does that phrase make you feel? Bad, right? Of course it does! Who likes to be criticized? I know I don’t, which is why I always offer constructive feedback instead.

It may seem kind of minor, but feedback is not nearly as loaded a word as criticism. It only implies that I want to offer my input—good, bad, and indifferent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what I’m about to say is all negative. In fact, my feedback is never going to be singularly negative. Why? Because I use what’s called “The Sandwich Method.” Never heard of it? Let me explain how it works…

Let’s say that I know someone who typically takes forever to respond to emails. First, I’d ask this person if I could provide some constructive feedback. Assuming they say yes, I start with identifying one of their positive traits. This is the first piece of bread in my sandwich.

I may say, “I loooove the way you write. It’s almost like poetry in the way that it’s always so precise and specific.” My goal with this genuine compliment (and it needs to be genuine) is to start the conversation by letting the person know that I recognize the good things they do.

This will keep them from instantly going on the defensive because they feel like I don’t appreciate them or recognize their value. It also keeps them from tuning out what I’m about to say as they plan their rebuttal.

The second part of the sandwich, the middle part, is where I offer my constructive feedback, where I share how I feel the person can improve. So I might say, “I really want to see you get a positive response to your emails and I think that one way to achieve that goal is by writing back within a day or two.”

I might even follow this up with an explanation as to why I think this would be beneficial. In this case, I’d share how a quicker response shows the respondent that you value their input and time. By not making them wait, it would encourage a more positive response from them.

The final part of the sandwich, the other slice of bread if you will, is another compliment. So, I’d likely follow up by saying, “By the way, thanks for copying me on each email. I really appreciate that you keep me in the loop so I always know what’s going on.” Again, this conveys that I still find value in the person, but it also makes the feedback more palatable and easier to absorb.

Think about this when offering constructive feedback to someone you work for or with. First, ask if the person is open to hearing it. If they are, start with a positive, transition into what he or she can do to improve (maybe even offering how this improvement can help), then ending with another positive.

This method works in personal relationships as well. As long as the person you’re speaking with feels valued and not like you’re just picking him or her apart, they’re more likely to listen to your feedback and consider your suggestions because they’ll know that they’re coming from a place of love and respect.

This is one case where a sandwich can be very satisfying…for everyone involved.


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