Make criticism work for you

I remember many many meetings with my Managers where they (attempted) to give me feedback.  When they needed to deliver negative feedback, they often used the technique called the Feedback Sandwich, some specific positive feedback, the negative feedback in detail and then follow up with some more general positive feedback.

Initially I thought this was great as I completely ignored the negative bits and basked in their positive comments- until I realized they didn’t really mean the positive bits, there were there just for display- it was the negative part that counted.

feedback sandwich

New research shows that the feedback sandwich doesn’t work — so how can I give negative feedback to people?

The old method was that by bracketing the negative remarks with positive comments, you make the criticism palatable.

Unfortunately, given retroactive interference and proactive enhancement, a very different outcome occurs: your criticism blasts the first list of specific positive comments out of the listeners’ memory. They then think hard about the criticism (which will make them remember it better) and are on the alert to think even harder about what happens next. What do they get? Nonspecific positive comments that are too general to be remembered.

It is also important to consider that receiving an equal number of positive and negative remarks feels negative overall.

Your approach should be along these lines… It is far better to briefly present a few negative remarks and then provide a long list of specific positive remarks. Be specific about the criticism, and how you wish the person to change their approach or behaviour. And you should also provide as much detail as possible within the positive comments, even more than feels natural, because positive feedback is less memorable.

So lets drop the sandwich.

Start with specific negative comments, and follow up with MORE specific positive comments- this will deliver the message and retain motivation.