It can be stressful giving constructive feedback to a co-worker. Most of us don’t want to seem like a jerk or damage our relationship with the receiver of feedback. We often feel like we want to balance the negative feedback with positive feedback. So it’s common to give tough feedback like this:
Positive Feedback –> Negative Feedback –> Positive Feedback
That’s called a feedback sandwich.
My favorite example of this is a parody that of our firm’s head of HR had hanging on her wall:
The Blimp Caretaker’s Feedback Sandwich was Brutal:
You do a good job of turning in your time reports,
I can’t believe you lost the F*&#ing Blimp,
Thank you keeping your office so well organized.
The Problem with Feedback Sandwiches
The reason to avoid the feedback sandwich is that it obscures the message you want to give. You really want to discuss an area of improvement but a feedback sandwich muddles it with two other unrelated pieces of feedback.
Also, the receiver of the feedback may focus on the positive and overlook the negative feedback as the serial position effect means that we often best remember the first and last things in a list.
Negative Feedback is a Gift
Properly delivered constructive feedback is a gift to the receiver. Knowing what we can improve on is an essential element to growth and learning.
For example, I work with amazing editors (Tim and Laurie) for my Forbes articles and for my upcoming book (Nancy). They aren’t shy about giving feedback about my writing and as a result I’ve improved. They are polite with their feedback, but very direct. Their feedback is a gift.
The key to effective feedback is having a relationship of trust with the feedback receiver. They need to trust that you care about them and want to help their career. Feedback should be delivered directly but kindly and in the spirit of helping the receiver of the feedback. If a relationship of trust exists, there is no need to sandwich negative feedback. Rather, give both positive and negative feedback when it’s warranted and on its own.