What is the feedback sandwich?
What’s the purpose of the feedback sandwich?
The feedback givers I’ve talked to posit these three reasons:
- It reduces potential anxiety and defensiveness in the feedback receiver
Givers say that letting the receiver know something positive they are doing paves the way for bringing up an area for improvement. Closing on a positive note, they say, can help ensure the conversation feels empowering and motivating for the receiver.
- It reduces potential anxiety in themselves
As countless studies clarify, many of us find giving negative feedback so stressful that we avoid it altogether. When entering a feedback conversation, many givers feel a great sense of calm when they know they will open and close with positive feedback.
- They believe the feedback receiver will be more inclined to adopt the negative feedback
This is because the receiver will know the negative feedback comes from someone who sees and recognizes all of their performance — including what they do exceptionally well.
Is there academic research about the feedback sandwich?
There is! But it’s somewhat mixed.
- It’s not likely to work if the giver is disingenuous in using it (and it’s hard not to be when using the feedback sandwich). The feedback sandwich can come off as insincere and formulaic rather than authentic and caring, especially if the positive feedback is perceived as lacking in detail or obviously a mask.
This video humorously captures just how disingenuous the feedback sandwich can become:
- Some studies suggest that Negative-Positive-Positive might be a better approach.
- Some studies hint at the feedback sandwich being helpful.
Ultimately, the feedback sandwich is an attempt by feedback givers to help themselves and the receiver work with negative feedback. Though it’s not as catchy, here’s a better approach to giving negative feedback:
- Build a culture of psychological safety where receivers of negative feedback do not feel their job is on the line each time they receive it. They should feel that the negative feedback is an opportunity for growth.
- Consistently provide enough specific positive feedback (often severely lacking) so that when it is time for negative feedback, it doesn’t need to be placed between two fake pieces of bread.
- Train all employees in the constructive feedback basics so that everybody has a baseline level of feedback literacy. You can get started on that right here by taking your team through what is possibly the most comprehensive, evidence-based online course about feedback: