The “Safe” Sandwich Feedback

“Can you wrap my shortcomings with a whole bunch of the great things I do? Thanks”

In the absence of preparation and critical thinking, delivering feedback can be even more emotionally complex.  Its impact is dependent on a myriad of emotional variables and conditions that seem uncontrollable, specifically to leaders who often have to deliver the feedback.

To avoid the emotionally charged unpredictable possibilities of giving someone negative feedback, leaders often admit to using the “sandwich” approach and smother their negative feedback with positive feedback.

In the HBR blog titled “The Sandwich Approach Undermines Your Feedback”. Roger Schwarz identifies 3 key reasons leaders use sandwich feedback:

1. They think it’s easier for people to hear negative when it comes with positive
2. They assume the sandwich approach provides balanced feedback
3. They believe that giving positive feedback with negative reduces discomfort

Rogers points out that transparency is critical in delivering feedback because:

1. Employees know they are being “sandwiched”, particularly if a leader has delivered “sandwich” feedback before
2. Trying to ease people into negative feedback creates more anxiety
3. The “sandwich” feedback approach is a unilateral control strategy that can undermine employees
4. The positive feedback, no matter how accurate, may be discounted entirely or the only feedback that’s acknowledged

You can read Roger Schwarz’s blog at

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