Scott Hardie | October 5, 2023
You've probably heard of a compliment sandwich (or its cruder alternative name): If you have to criticize someone directly, first praise them with a compliment, and then give them another compliment afterwards, to make the negativity in the middle more tolerable. It's not just for working environments, but it's especially common in them; I've heard numerous colleagues advise that job feedback should always be delivered this way.

Please don't do this.

Firstly, it's infantilizing. If I'm on the receiving end, I don't need you to manage my emotions for me. I'm a professional; my feelings exist but they won't disrupt work. Managers in 2023 are expected to have more emotional I.Q. in general, but that's for healthy things like recognizing why morale is low when they've given pizza parties in lieu of raises for the last few years, not for manipulating employees' feelings so as to avoid unpleasant conversations.

Secondly, it's misleading. Employees need accurate feedback on their job performance in order to do their work well. Even if all three of the statements are individually true, giving two compliments and one criticism to a poor performer risks making them think that they're doing their job well on the whole. Stick to the feedback that really matters. (The inverse is true, too: Don't browbeat a high performer with relentless negativity in the hopes of getting even better work out of them. It will slowly destroy their confidence if they think you're right, or their morale if they think you're wrong, or their commitment if they think you're lying.)

What do you think of the compliment sandwich? Are there other similar "techniques" for interpersonal conversation that you like or dislike?

Erik Bates | October 13, 2023
Manufacturing feedback so that you're finding good messages to bookend the bad just leads to just that... manufactured feedback that serves no real purpose other than trying to save the feelings of the recipient.

Feedback should be honest and relevant. If all you have is bad points, then in reality, you either have a super shitty employee, or you're a bad manager. I have never had an experience as a manager or as a coworker in which I couldn't find, or coach an employee to have some sort of positive outcome that could be recognized. But even then, unless that particular area is relevant to the corrective feedback that is necessary, leave it out.

And in the area of job performance feedback, there's no need to go through the scaffolding of your feedback like this. Hit each area of performance and point out the good, and point out the bad. And when pointing out the bad, instead of shit sandwiching it, just treat it as a coaching opportunity. "Scott, you've missed the mark on X, Y, and Z deliverables this quarter. What do you need to help you hit your goals next quarter?" By doing this, you're not creating a needless compliment, but you're steering the employee toward a potential positive outcome, despite their missing the mark.

Scott Hardie | October 19, 2023
Absolutely agreed. We've all had a boss at some point who never seemed to articulate what exactly they wanted, whether because they muddied the message with needless "techniques" like this or for other reasons. Clear feedback is so important to job success AND to employee satisfaction.

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