[January 9, 2020] Many techniques work well in delivering negative feedback. My dad, who worked his way up through the ranks of the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MOPAC), was fond of the Sandwich Technique.1 He told me that it was always best to surround criticism with compliments.
It goes something like this, “Bob, you’re talented. You screwed up on this task. Bob, you still a pretty smart guy.” The core of the sandwich technique is giving criticism without trying to hurt that person’s feelings. Sometimes this is an effective method, but it depends upon the situation and the person getting receiving criticism. Being selective in its use is paramount.
Maybe I’m a bit simple, but I fell for it once. My first War College paper was due, and I spent several hours making sure everything was just right. Upon its return and marked up in red were the many mistakes I’d made. The instructor wrote, “You’re on a professional football team, you fumbled the ball and the other team ran it back for a touchdown, but you’re still on the team.” Ouch! I survived the War College and the compliment-criticism-compliment technique worked that time.
My dad was a very effective and talented manager. He must have thought highly of this method and why he took the time to reinforce it with me. I’d worked on a railroad owned by the MOPAC during the summers between college semesters. Occasionally my dad would try to provide me with positive criticism using the sandwich technique. At that time, it didn’t work as intended.
The sandwich technique often doesn’t work. Here is why it doesn’t always work. A person who is getting the method used on them hears all the positive comments, and the negative is buried. It’s a natural tendency for us all to do that. We hear the beginning and the end of conversations more than what is in the middle.
I prefer the pure, unvarnished truth, and I like it upfront and center. Most of those in the U.S. military and those at senior leadership positions also prefer being given criticism as cleanly as possible. “Don’t beat around the bush, tell me what’s wrong,” my friend told me once when I was responsible for correcting a mistake he kept making.
The Sandwich Technique is easy, and it does work; however, use it with care.
- Also referred to as the Feedback Sandwich or Criticism Sandwich, this is a management technique that’s been around for a while and seems to work reasonably well. Some say, however, that it’s one of the worst management techniques ever invented. Mark Murphy, in an article titled “The Compliment Sandwich: What Is It And Why Is It So Bad?” does an excellent job of explaining it and from which I use some of his thoughts in my article. https://www.leadershipiq.com/blogs/leadershipiq/compliment-sandwich