Feedback: It’s Not a Sandwich
When you decide to provide feedback within your organization, chances are your intentions are pure.
Maybe you see the potential to smooth a point of tension, or an opportunity for improvement. Bringing up a tough issue can be uncomfortable, so you make sure to plan your approach carefully. But somewhere between your good intentions, the awkward Tuesday meeting, and Wednesday at the microwave, things go awry.
The feedback sandwich has always been touted as the solution to this problem. It works like this; first, you provide positive feedback, then constructive criticism, then positive feedback again. “That’s DOUBLE the positive feedback!” you think to yourself job well done, and imagine your dazzling new life, free of conflict.
Our hope with this model is that we can affect positive change while avoiding unpleasantries and skirting sore spots. The risk is that we can leave the situation without clearly articulating our concern, and worse, the recipient leaves feeling confused - maybe even disrespected.
Deep down, we all know this. It’s frustrating to receive feedback that has to be decoded. If you’ve ever been given a feedback sandwich, you also know that those positive affirmation cushions don’t make the constructive comments any easier to stomach. Thankfully, there’s a better way. Here are a few feedback approaches I strive towards in my own work life:
How to improve your feedback:
- Don’t mix messages. Give thorough, well-developed positive feedback when it’s warranted, and thorough, well-developed constructive feedback when it’s warranted. Separately.
- Normalize feedback by delivering it in the moment.
- Focus on observations, not interpretations. Avoid making assumptions about motivations or values.
- Paint the whole picture. Explain the intended and unintended impacts of the behavior or process.
- Move forward. Reach an agreement on next steps, and remember you’re on the same team.
- Give the person enough information to make the change. Be prepared for follow up discussions.
How to receive feedback:
- Ask for feedback all the time, both written and in person. Make is small and specific. “What do you think about this bullet point?”, “Are these email updates working for you?”. Provide low risk and guided opportunities for others to give feedback on your work. When something more significant comes up, you’ll have a positive foundation of trust to lean on.
- It’s ok if you get sweaty palms. Keep calm and listen on.
- It’s ok to ask for time to process and follow up at a later time
When giving or receiving feedback be authentic and consider values, alternative perceptions. Stay focused on creating a positive outcome.
One of my favorite perspectives on giving and receiving feedback comes from my colleague and Learning Specialist Randall Williams. He says that as social creatures, we all pick up on intent. If we are genuine in our efforts, our colleagues will take note. If we are genuine in our efforts, we will be forgiven when our communications are imperfect.