The feedback sandwich says that when delivering constructive or corrective feedback, that this difficult message should be sandwiched between two positive messages. We say don’t use this model.

Summary by The World of Work Project

The Feedback Sandwich

Feedback, particularly constructive or challenging feedback, isn’t always easy to give. The feedback sandwich model says that to overcome this difficulty, constructive feedback should be provided with positive feedback as well. It says that the feedback conversations should start and end with positive messages, and that the constructive messages should be delivered in the middle.

This model has two purported benefits: firstly, it reduces the likelihood of negative emotional responses to constructive or corrective feedback from the recipient, and secondly it makes it easier for the person delivering those messages to deliver them, which should lead to more helpful conversations about development.

The feedback sandwich is a “classic” feedback model that many people know about.

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Those of you who have spoken to us will know we have pretty strong views on feedback. We understand that receiving feedback well can be difficult and that feedback can feel like a social threat. We also know that receiving feedback can be triggering, causing our amygdala responses (fight or flight) to kick in. Given this, we think it’s good to focus on learning to receive feedback well before focusing on learning to give feedback well.

There are several posts in this site on various feedback tools and models which might be helpful. These include 360 degree feedback, the stop, start continue framework, The COIN model, the feedback review matrix and the CEDAR model. There are also some tools we think you should avoid, including the feedback sandwich.

Our second podcast on feedback might also be helpful. In it we have a conversation with a feedback specialist, Joe Hirsch. You can listen to it below.

The World of Work Project View

The fact that you might know this model by its other name, “the sh*t sandwich” probably tells you all you need to know about it. We don’t recommend using it. We know that feedback conversations are sensitive, can be difficult and should be handled considerately, but we believe they need to be open and transparent, which we don’t think the feedback sandwich is.

Breakfast of champions?

The main problem with this model is that the constructive or corrective messages are often lost as the recipient focuses on the positive feedback, which is most of the conversation. They pay little attention to the corrective message and probably don’t act on it.

This means that in 6-12 months they probably won’t have improved and probably don’t even realize they have been asked to. Later when they’re appraised and receive a negative rating it may come as a surprise and they may feel resentful and badly managed as a result.

If the person providing the feedback had instead been more direct, open and honest, then the individual would have heard the true message and could have taken corrective action. These honest and open conversations are more effective, transparent, helpful and aligned to the individuals best interests than the a feedback sandwich.

Our advice is to pull yourself together and deliver honest feedback with a genuine intent of helping someone improved as opposed to hiding behind a feedback sandwich.

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This post is based on our own personal experience and there are no specific references for it. If you know who this should be attributed to, please let us know.

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