Why Sandwich Feedback Is A Bunch Of Baloney


Feedback is really hard to give and take, especially in the workplace. We have to live with these people everyday so having to tell them something they may not be expecting is not going to make for a good workday.  Most would rather have a subpar encounter than deal with the conflict that can happen when we have to give someone feedback.  Then there is the brilliant (sarcasm folks) idea that giving someone “Sandwich Feedback” somehow can cushion the negative. Sandwich feedback is where you give feedback by starting with something positive, then stuffing the negative in the middle and ending on something positive again. If you have ever tried to use sandwich feedback with your team, you may already know that it just doesn’t work. 

Here’s why –  people have a way bigger reaction swing when they hear negative feedback than positive. So in order for the sandwich feedback method to even remotely cushion anything, you need to give a ton more positive feedback than negative and hope they read between the lines. Plus, it feels disingenuous, and people know when you are doing it. I have had people actually tell me, I see what you did there, you gave me a crap sandwich. Ouch.  

So what is the best way to give feedback?  Use the ACE method! 

Author and negotiation expert Sheila Heen, came up with a great way to provide consistent, feedback that becomes part of your daily routine. She calls it the ACE method and she has me hooked.

A – Appreciation:
This is the most fun feedback because it’s what everyone wants to hear the most. Things like… “I see progress,” “I know how hard you are working,” “I really loved the way you ___”. These all show both appreciation and acknowledgement of specific effort. Give this feedback often and honestly. If you get good at noticing the small stuff, you will build trust and more open communication because your team will feel appreciated and safe.  If you fake it, people will know and you lose some of that good energy.

C – Coaching:
Use this when you are trying to improve or get better at something as a team such as times when the team is working to gain knowledge, seek something new, become more efficient etc. Always ask permission from the recipient before you coach them. An example would be something like… “would you be open to coaching feedback”. This lets the recipient understand you are going to be working with them on improving a task or process with your feedback. Coaching feedback is best when you pick one specific thing to improve or tweak, not a laundry list. You will notice over time that your team may even start coming to you asking for your coaching.

E – Evaluation:
This is more of a ranking process that is based on expectations vs. reality. It answers the question – “where do I stand here” similar to the feedback given during a performance review. With evaluation feedback, you are measuring the recipient against a standard. Evaluation should be used sparingly and the recipient must be told in advance so they can prepare. 

Everyone on your team needs each of these types of feedback, in fact, we ALL do! I would suggest even taking this blog to your team and using it as a way to open up lines of communication that are healthy. Open communication will help you begin the work of creating a more cohesive team that is striving for the same goals. 

One last type of feedback that is beneficial to teams is the one-on-one check in with each person once a month or so. A quick check-in allows you to stay up-to-date on their progress and help coach them through anything they have questions about. People are often reluctant to ask for help or feedback, check-ins become an easy way to stimulate ideas, and work through bottlenecks.   

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