Note to Self: Delete Sandwich from Feedback Menu

Published statements or even correlations can be found and described  to support nearly any perspective.  It’s true that even a broken clock may be right twice a day.


Take the oft-recommended method of providing negative feedback “sandwiched” between presumably positive statements that are too often made-up or insincere.  Call the result a praise or a crap sandwich: either way it is wrong.


In an earlier writing here (“Candor in Action” March 23, 2016) the warm glow of candor was suggested as the ideal for building a team and organization.


Enter Caroline Webb.  In her 2016 book, How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavior Science to Transform Your Working Life, Ms Webb shares relevant research findings:


It turns out that research says our human brains guard against not only physical threats but also threats to our social standing, belonging, competence, etc.  Hearing negative statements about our selves or our work triggers our defenses: our “fight or flight.”


When our brains are focused on fighting or fleeing, they’re not equipped to also help us listen rationally, respond graciously, conduct sound reasoning, control our behaviors, etc.  Ever taken a trip to the beach in your mind or imagined punching the person delivering that sandwich to you?


Further, our brains are more sensitive to threats than to rewards, and they like specificity more than concepts.  We are wired to remember the negative, specific feedback we’re hearing: not the fuzzy niceties.


Put these research findings together and learn:


  • Avoid disguising or pretending to hide negative feedback “in between” broad, non-specific positives.
  • If there is useful criticism to offer, plan the conversation to offer it.
  • Be specific, candid and kind.


You certainly do not want those who have dined and learned the bad sandwich to think – when you begin to commend them for good work – here we go again la-la-la or worse, to brace for the meal of correction and miss the encouragement feedback you intend.


Thinking ahead to plan a conversation in this mindset and with this approach will help you be heard.  That conversational environment will contribute to productive, trust-based relationships even – or maybe especially – when two parties don’t initially agree.