Why the “Feedback Sandwich” is Baloney and How To Give Feedback Better

by Mallory Dunbar, Learning Specialist & Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of a choose your own adventure bookDo you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? We loved them. They put us, little kids, in the driver’s seat of our stories.

Don’t you wish you could do that as a grown-up?

Well, here’s our version of Choose Your Own Adventure in our post this week:

  1. Tell me all about it (Option 1: The Article)
  2. Answer my tough questions (Option 2: FAQs)
  3. Take poetic license (Option 3: A Poem)
  4. Teach me how (Option 4: The Course)

Option 1: The Article

Ah, feedback – that seemingly innocent little word that can make even the toughest of souls tremble in their boots. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, we all know that feedback can be a double-edged sword. 

Picture this: you gather your courage, put on your game face, and approach your co-worker with the noble intention of offering them constructive feedback. You’ve rehearsed your lines in the mirror, convinced your feedback will catalyze their growth and development. As you offer your pearls of wisdom, you feel things go astray. Your well-intentioned feedback was received as a personal attack, went misunderstood, or was so far off track that you’re left questioning your ability to communicate. Maybe the person seemed receptive, but they were already plotting your demise the minute they walked away.

All it takes is one experience like this to make us gunshy about giving feedback in the future.

Feedback is one tough nut to crack. Whether you’re just starting out in your career, recently promoted to a leadership position, or have been in a leadership role for 20 years, some of us would rather do our taxes than give some tough feedback (or the same feedback for what feels like the tenth time!) What if we told you feedback was an often overlooked way to recognize folks? Do we have your attention now?  

So, what do you say? Ready to ditch the feedback faux pas and learn an easy-to-use, well-received feedback model? Let’s jump into it.  

The Feedback Sandwich: Hold the Baloney

Ah, the legendary “feedback sandwich” technique. You know the one—where you sandwich slices of constructive criticism between two fluffy compliments. But let’s be honest here – no one likes a sandwich with too much baloney. So, how about we ditch the unnecessary layers and get straight to the point? 

Think of feedback as a gourmet slider rather than a towering sandwich. One bite of feedback, a dash of reasoning, followed by a mouthful of encouragement. Voila! A feedback experience that’s both delightful and memorable.

Bite Into This: The Recognition-Rich Feedback Model

Image of the order giving rich feedback. This is going suggestions first, reasons second and encouragement thirdThe recognition-rich feedback model combines constructive feedback with recognition to guarantee a feedback experience that doesn’t crush spirits.

Rather than starting out with praise just to be trampled by criticism, the recognition-rich model dives right into the suggestion you have to get the feedback ball rolling. Following that, you outline the reasons for your suggestion – the benefit of implementing it and what problems it will solve. To close out, offer encouragement by pointing out the skills and abilities the person has that will allow them to succeed.

That’s it. Just three simple steps stand between you and feedback that actually works. 

*(If you think it’s too good to be true, check out Shelle Rose Charvet’s book Words that Change Minds, and you’ll see how she guided us in this formula.) 

Recognition-Rich Feedback Model in Action

Think of some feedback you have had to give or had to give recently. How might you do that using the recognition-rich feedback model? Let’s test it out together.  

Imagine you have a colleague who is a bit of a meeting monopolizer. They tend to speak over others and hog the airtime in a meeting. If we were to address them using the recognition-rich model, it might go something like this:

  • Suggestion: Hey X, I know you have a lot of great ideas, and I think I have a suggestion for how we can make the most of them. Try being the second or third person to speak up in our meeting.
  • Reason: I have found folks are more likely to take ideas seriously when they build on the ideas from others. I think that will mean you get a lot of buy-in, as everyone will have felt like they contributed.
  • Encouragement: I know you have amazing ideas and aren’t afraid to tackle tough issues. I want to ensure you have the whole team’s support to make them a reality. 

So, what do you think? Are you ready to bid farewell to the days of unsavoury sandwich feedback and feast on a new approach that will leave everyone satisfied and wanting more?

Feel free to forward this article to others who will benefit and tackle feedback baloney together!

Option #2: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How can I overcome my fear of giving feedback?

Feedback jitters; we’ve all been there. When you don’t know how the other person will take it or how they’ll respond, giving feedback can be daunting. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or for it to come across wrong. But let’s flip the script. Instead of focusing on all the ways it can go wrong, focus on the good that can come from it. Remember, feedback is a chance for growth. Are you prepared to rob someone of that opportunity? If you believe you’re there to serve the other person rather than harming them, you are more likely to give feedback and do so with positive intent. Know what they do well, including what you need to address. Work to create a supportive and constructive environment for a conversation where you’re on the ready with genuine and meaningful points to recognize in them to get the conversation back on track if it seems to be going off the rails.

2. How do I receive feedback without becoming defensive?

image of a drawn outline of 2 faces on a black background facing each other and work bubbles. the bubble on the left says feed and the bubble on the right says backIf you’re defensive, that means you care! See the best in yourself rather than beating yourself up on the inside while coming out swinging (metaphorically) on the outside. Receiving feedback can be challenging, particularly if it’s out of the blue and a foundation of mutual appreciation hasn’t been built first. Remember, you are the one who can benefit most from the feedback. Feedback is essential for personal growth. Could it be a gift, even if it doesn’t feel that way now? Give yourself some emotional decompression time. How? Just listen. Active listening shows respect, and it also allows you not to react. Remain open-minded and curious, seeking to understand the perspective being shared. Remember that feedback is an opportunity for improvement; embracing it allows you to excel in your role.

3. What if I disagree with the feedback I receive?

Does anyone on the planet have precisely the same belief system, life experience, and opinions as you? Nope! So no wonder you might have differing opinions on the feedback received. Instead of dismissing it outright, take time to reflect on the feedback and seek clarification if needed. Consider the intentions behind the feedback and evaluate whether it is well intended. Reflect on what points are valid (there is probably something in there that could contribute to your growth). You don’t have to agree with everything for it to be useful.

4. How can feedback contribute to employee engagement?

Imagine if no one gave feedback. How engaged would folks be? It sounds like “quiet quitting,” doesn’t it? Feedback plays a significant role in fostering employee engagement. When feedback recognizes employee efforts, sets goals, and encourages growth, employees have a reason to stay motivated. And that motivation drives engagement. 

5. Can feedback improve team dynamics?

image of Seinfeld with girlfriend who he couldn't remember her name, it was DeloresFeedback-avoidant cultures were one of many key contributors to team implosion. After all, feedback is instrumental in improving team dynamics. How do you show respect to people if you don’t feel they can receive or are worthy of receiving feedback for their performance and team success? When team members provide feedback to one another, they establish a culture of accountability and growth. What team doesn’t need accountability and growth? Constructive feedback can also help to address conflicts and resolve misunderstandings before they get too big. (Remember that Seinfeld episode where he couldn’t remember his girlfriend’s name until it was too late? Don’t wait to check in with folks!) I have never met a high-performing team that doesn’t have a steady diet of feedback delivered in a respectful, planful and recognition-rich way.

6. How can recognition be integrated into the feedback process?

Recognition can be integrated into the feedback process by acknowledging and appreciating the individual’s efforts and achievements. In fact, we would argue it must be present. Avoid leading with an insincere compliment, like in the sandwich method. Instead, weave in points to acknowledge, such as how well someone is receiving the feedback and your gratitude for their willingness to have the conversation. Be sure to illustrate how you know they will be successful in what you’re giving feedback on and why you value them on the team. If we’re better off from the feedback because we feel more understood, valued and appreciated, we know feedback has been recognition-rich.

Don’t forget that your recognition-rich day-to-day interactions, meetings and events enrich fertile soil for future feedback conversations. When people already feel seen, heard and valued, feedback is just enough another way that this manifests.

Option 3: The POEM:

We asked ChatGPT to share a poem with us about feedback done right (i.e., not using the sandwich method!) Curious? We sure were!

image of a book of poetry with a white feather on topThe Dance of Reflection

Behold the artistry of feedback’s gentle dance,
a mirror held before our very souls,
reflecting strengths and unveiling flaws,
guiding self-awareness toward the whole.

The time has come to transcend the known,
go shatter the confines of tradition’s grasp,
for the sandwich method’s tender disguise,
masks the growth we so earnestly clasp.

Within the layers of praise and sugar-coated words,
lie the seeds of complacency buried deep,
for feedback, when diluted, loses its power,
and true growth slumbers in a dreamless sleep.

Let honesty be the compass that guides our way,
for in its truth, the seeds of growth take root,
no longer obscured by sweetened words,
our potential blooms, an eternal pursuit.

Let feedback be a conversation, not a monologue,
a dialogue that ignites the fire within,
through open hearts and minds, we build,
a foundation where growth may freely begin.

Each soul, a universe with its unique needs,
feedback tailored, a gift of bespoke design,
for in understanding individual strengths and dreams,
we fashion a path where brilliance will shine.

In trust’s tender embrace, we find solace,
an environment where feedback takes flight,
with psychological safety as our guiding light,
we dance in harmony, embracing growth’s might.

With empathy’s embrace, we transcend the ordinary,
feedback’s impact, a profound connection we weave,
understanding the hearts behind the words we share,
our souls entwined in growth’s symphony, believe.

Let feedback be a river flowing endlessly,
a current that propels us toward the unknown,
for in the embrace of learning, we find our way,
ever-evolving, in this dance, we have grown.

Option 4: The Course

Great Morale Series: Building Trust Through Feedback

image of a new course being offered Building Trust Through Feedback12 short videos, 3 tools, and one hour of your time. That’s all we need to help you to become a feedback fan. 

When we learned how to “give and receive” feedback, we had to sit in a classroom practicing painful roleplays for two days. Yowsers! Who has that kind of time? We believe it is way less complicated than how we learned it. Hence this short yet practical microcourse.

Whether it be in a personal or professional context (or both), we all need feedback skills. We see the fallout – relationship meltdowns, crushed productivity, bullying – when feedback is avoided or borders on harsh criticism.

So, we combed all the juiciest nuggets, and since you don’t have a few spare days lying around, we bottom-lined it into this short virtual program. We share with you practical models and tools for giving feedback that is evidence-based and proven to work so you can take back the feedback that reigns in your work and life. 

We give you a permission slip to throw out outdated formulas and hone in on specific techniques that can help you build trust, improve communication, and enhance collaboration in your workplace. You’ll learn how to provide specific, actionable, and respectful feedback while also practicing active listening and responding in a way that encourages further discussion. If you want concrete tools and strategies to build a positive feedback culture that promotes teamwork and success for less than the cost of the apology Starbucks round for your team, join us and let’s take your feedback skills to the next level! Enroll here

And for even more juicy feedback techniques, check out these other posts:

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– Mother Teresa

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