For a while now I’ve been meaning to write something about the feedback sandwich. What is it you ask? It’s that cowardly act of not having a difficult conversation.
Sorry. That didn’t explain it at all. It’s that “technique” often delivered as being an effective way to give someone bad feedback.
1) Tell someone the good thing they’re doing.
2) Tell them the bad thing they’re doing.
3) Tell them another good thing they do.
There. All better.
Sometimes. I. Could. Shout.
Let’s unpick this thing.
First of all what message is the person supposed to listen to? You’re giving them three clear pieces of feedback, but in reality only want them to focus on the negative feedback. But that message is hidden in the positive stuff. So, how is it clear which message they’re meant to listen to?
People have selective hearing. They’ll hear what they want to. If you’re trying to give some negative feedback, they’ll (mentally) protect themselves by not paying attention to the negative thing. Because you’ve given them two bits of good, they don’t need to pay attention to the negative.
If you try to focus only on the negative, even though you’ve given two positive messages, you completely negate the impact of those positive messages. Instead, what the person thinks is you were lying about the positive messages. So, there was no point in giving the two positive messages.
In truth, this is not about giving the person feedback in a compassionate way. It’s about protecting the person delivering the feedback. The person delivering doesn’t want to feel bad because they’re not skilled enough to give bad feedback on its own. That has nothing to do with the person receiving the feedback at all.
What it comes down to is this. We’re adults. Yet the old ways of working mean we treat each other in ways of hierarchy and power and control which are long gone now. They’re old. But, there are plenty of us holding fast to tried and tested methods, “because they work”. The problem is, they only work because there’s nothing better been tried or practised. The brilliant thing is, there are skilled people who can deliver bad messages well, and we need to learn from those people better.
I’m a firm believer in dealing with reality. If someone’s doing a bad job, be clear and unequivocal about it. That’s not to say you have to be horrible, rude or nasty. It means help someone know exactly why something didn’t go the way it should have, support them to do better, and be respectful enough to treat them as adults.
I’m also an advocate of building people’s strengths. If someone is awesome, tell them, in clear, unequivocal terms. Shout about it, let others know, reward that behaviour and make a song and a dance about it. We don’t do that nearly enough (particularly us Brits and our stiff upper lip nonsense), and it’s rubbish that we don’t.
Don’t muddy the two though.