Break Your Compliment Sandwich Addiction by Turning it Inside Out

You’ve read a lot on this blog about feedback and how to give it. I’ve often reiterated how the old “compliment sandwich” is tired, transparent, and holds the possibility of backfiring.

First, let’s review what a compliment sandwich is and isn’t.

The compliment sandwich is an attempt to give tough feedback between two bits of positive feedback. Theoretically, people use this technique to make the tough feedback easier to handle. Instead, however, the sandwiched feedback becomes confusing and even insulting to the recipient’s intelligence.

Compliment Sandwich Example:

“Hey Alan, your desk is always so neat and organized. I like that. Say, I was hoping that you’d be more on top of the Icarus Project; you’re behind schedule on both your inputs. But, I know it’ll be good once you do it because your work on the Toledo presentation was top-notch.”

A compliment sandwich isn’t a long performance conversation that begins with high points and then moves on to areas of growth opportunity. In these instances, it’s okay to end with optimistic thoughts or a reminder of the person’s value to the organization. However, resist the temptation to infer that a super-short version is effective in delivering one bit of bad feedback; it’s not.

But, if you love the sandwich format, here’s an idea:

Turn it inside out.

This requires a decent relationship with the receiver, and it’s a way to soften critical feedback without being overly warm and fuzzy.

Consider offering:

  • Something to improve
  • Reassurance about a specific good performance behavior
  • An urging to keep working on the issue to change

Inside Out Sandwich Example:

“Alan, you’re having some trouble with the deliverables on the Icarus Project. You’re past deadline on two inputs.

I know you’re capable of knocking this out of the park—last month’s presentation in Toledo is a perfect example of that; it was role-model preparation.

Right now, though, I’m worried about what might happen if you’re much later on getting Sandra the year-over-year figures. What do you need to get caught up on that and the other item?”

What do you think? Have you ever tried this approach?

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