Somewhere along the way, most people learn the sandwich method of giving feedback. The concept is wrapping bad news inside of good news to make it go down easy. The premise makes sense: positive stuff makes us feel good, and negative stuff makes us anxious. Wrap it all up in positivity and avoid anxiety.
However, we all know that our emotions are more complicated than that. I think the sandwich method is a little patronizing and suffers from poor execution. It also doesn’t account for the power of emotional inertia. Going from good news to bad news can be crippling, even if you end on a good note.
I learned a better way from an etiquette book. The original advice was found in a section on how to ask for a favor from someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Consider this:
Hi Becky! It’s been forever. I miss your wacky hats.
Let’s hang out soon!
By the way, could I put you down as a reference?
This is what most people do. It comes off a bit opportunistic – the finishing request usually makes the entire message feel fake. My trusty etiquette book recommended you always open with your request. This makes you come off direct and honest. If you do put in a request to hang out or a compliment, it comes off as genuine since it follows your request. There’s no “surprise ask” or puffing up the recipient.
Hi Becky! Could I put you down as a reference?
By the way – Let’s hang out soon! It’s been forever. I miss your wacky hats.
I like to follow this same format for feedback. Genuine direct feedback or request first (regardless of positive or negative), followed with a friendly positive close.
The main reason I don’t like the sandwich method is because I can identify when it’s being used on me and others. I noticed that because you have to come up with two positive notes, people get lazy with the second one. It usually sounds like this:
I like the green actions. Great use of color.
However, the typography is too inconsistent. For example, this particular font [link] shouldn’t be used. Also I added notes on updating the column widths to to match the standard.
Overall good work though!
Let me know when the revision is ready.
This shows the execution problem with the sandwich method. It doesn’t work with a weak ending statement. Another mistake people make is they deliver the positive statements as “I like x” phrases, and the negative statements as factual statements. This makes the positive statements come off weaker and the negative statements come off very direct. Consider this approach:
Concerning the design:
The typography is too inconsistent. For example, this particular font [link] shouldn’t be used. Also I added notes on updating the column widths to to match the standard.
The design of the block elements is exactly what I had envisioned. The use of color is great. I like that all the actions have green icons. Let me know when the revision is ready.
It’s a little different. I think the directness can be a bit jarring, but honesty breeds respect. I believe this method also makes the positive feedback sound more real. After getting feedback in this way for a while, you will approach feedback less emotionally and dismiss less of it, especially the good parts. Anytime you go from negative to positive, there’s a positive emotional inertia effect along the lines of “it could always be worse.” If you start positive, and start peppering in criticism, the message is “it’s going to keep getting worse.”
Adults that respect each other give each other straight, but polite feedback. The sandwich method is a cheap cop-out and it doesn’t always sound as good as you intend it to.
Thoughts? Feedback? Sandwiches?