Delivering Feedback with the Positivity Sandwich: The Pros and Cons

2 years ago   •   4 min read

By Zero Machina

Feedback is one of the most important tools that we have as professionals.

It improves performance and ensures we're successfully collaborating with others.  But it can be challenging.

One common method for delivering feedback is known as the positivity sandwich. This involves giving constructive criticism (the meat of the sandwich) between two pieces of positive feedback (the buns). Some people find this approach to be an effective way to deliver critical information, while others find it ineffective and disingenuous.

In this article, we'll take a look at the pros and cons of using the positivity sandwich.

What Is the Positivity Sandwich and How Is It Used?

As already mentioned, a positivity sandwich is when a person gives constructive criticism between two slices of positive feedback. This has also been called a feedback or compliment sandwich.

The idea behind the positivity sandwich is that it softens the blow of important feedback and makes it more palatable. It's used as a way to deliver critical information in a way that is less likely to offend or upset the recipient.

Let's say you're giving a team member feedback about their work performance on a marketing campaign:

  1. Instead of bluntly stating, "Your work on this campaign is subpar, and here's why..." you might start out by pointing out something you like about their work: "You did a great job on the research for this campaign."
  2. Then, you'd follow up with critical feedback that would help them improve their performance. "The performance of the campaign would be even better if you included more storytelling."
  3. After the constructive feedback, you'd finish with another positive statement, such as, "Again, you've done a solid job so far. If you make these changes, I believe the campaign's performance will improve."

For this method to be effective, you'll want to make sure the positive statements are genuine (instead of a vague generalization or cookie-cutter responses).

Benefits of Sandwiching Constructive Criticism

There are a few benefits of using this technique for providing feedback.

One of the main advantages is that it can help soften the blow of your critique. By sandwiching the constructive criticism between two pieces of positive feedback, the recipient is more likely to receive negative feedback and be open to making improvements. This can be especially useful for individuals who struggle with receiving criticism, as the feedback sandwich can help them stay calm and open to the feedback.

Another advantage of using this approach is that it can help build trust and rapport. Since the feedback is delivered in a positive and non-confrontational manner, it can help create a more constructive and collaborative relationship between the two parties.

Also, this technique encourages the recipient to be more cooperative and receptive to future feedback. Since you're reducing the likelihood of defensiveness and resentment,  the recipient is more likely to be open in the future.

Overall, the positivity sandwich is a practical way to deliver feedback, as it can help recipients better accept criticism and prevent negative feelings towards the giver of feedback.

Drawbacks of Sandwiching Constructive Criticism

There are a few drawbacks to using this technique.

One main disadvantage of using a feedback sandwich is that it can be seen as disingenuous. It may appear that you're sugarcoating negative feedback with praise or compliments, and this may engender feelings of inauthenticity. If it's interpreted this way, the recipient could become resentful and distrustful.

In more extreme cases, a feedback sandwich may come across as patronizing, potentially damaging the relationship. Insincere compliments may worsen the situation.

Another drawback is it may be time-consuming. Some have criticized that sandwiching constructive feedback with two compliments adds unnecessary steps. Using them to offset negative feedback delays its value. In other words, it's best to be direct and give feedback as quickly as possible.

When Is the Positivity Sandwich the Right Method?

You can use a few key indicators to decide if the positivity sandwich is right for any given situation.

  • If the person struggles with hearing negative comments, the positivity sandwich may be a good way to help them stay calm and be more open to the feedback.
  • If the recipient is likely to respond defensively or become upset by the criticism, sandwiching the feedback would be beneficial.
  • If the recipient is busy or doesn't have much time to chat, they may just want quick and direct communication.  In this case, a straightforward approach might be more effective.

Ultimately, the best way to determine if the positivity sandwich is the right method for a particular situation is to understand the individual's needs and preferences.

Best Practices for Delivering Feedback

There are a number of best practices for delivering feedback, both with and without the positivity sandwich.

  1. Active listening. One of the most important aspects of giving feedback is to ensure that you're actively listening to the person's concerns and responding in a way that acknowledges their feelings. This may include asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing their points, and mirroring their body language.
  2. Remain calm and respectful. Another best practice for delivering feedback is to remain calm and respectful at all times. Even if the individual responds defensively or angrily, it's important to keep your emotions in check and avoid getting defensive yourself. This can be a challenging skill to master, but it's essential for maintaining a productive and respectful relationship.
  3. Be genuine with your compliments and praise. If you decide to use a positive statement or compliment, it should always come from the heart. This will make it more meaningful to the recipient and convey your genuine support for their success.
  4. Don't beat around the bush. If you're strapped for time, the last thing you want is to have to sit through a long-winded feedback session that beats around the bush. Deliver your feedback in a clear and concise manner that doesn't require extensive explanations or justifications. This way, both you and the recipient can move on with your respective tasks at hand.

Overall, the key to delivering effective feedback is to be thoughtful and deliberate in your approach.  Lead with empathy, and have a desire to help them improve. This will ensure that your feedback is received in a constructive and collaborative way, regardless of the specific method used.

Next Steps

The positivity sandwich is a popular feedback method that has both pros and cons. While it can be seen as artificial or inauthentic, it has the potential to deliver feedback in a collaborative and supportive manner. Ultimately, the best way to determine if this approach is right for you is to have empathy for the recipient's needs.

Want to learn 8 ways to save yourself time at work and in life? Check out our article HERE.

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