The sandwich method of criticism

Few people enjoy receiving criticism. On the contrary, employees are often even demotivated after hearing it. It is precisely this effect that managers should avoid, and with the so-called “sandwich method” it could be. Criticism in this method follows a fixed sequence. Similar to the structure of a sandwich, the criticism is flanked between two comments of praise. The sandwich “filler” is, therefore, the criticism. This makes it easier for employees to receive negative feedback, and the conversation is more pleasant for both sides. However the danger exists that the criticism isn’t communicated clearly enough, and there is no noticeable change.

What is the sandwich method and how is it used?

The sandwich method is a form of feedback that wraps negative feedback in praise. This means that the feedback discussion starts with positive comments, and is followed by negative criticism, before appreciative words are used again. The term “sandwich method” comes from the fact that the negative feedback, in this instance the cheese and the ham, is packed between words of praise, which are the slices of bread. The aim of this method is to create a pleasant atmosphere for discussion and to relax the severity of the negative criticism. The person criticized in this way should become more receptive and ultimately leave the conversation with a good feeling.

When is the sandwich method used?

The sandwich method is mainly used in professional life, especially in appraisal interviews in which the manager evaluates the performance of the employee. However, the sandwich method is also frequently used for spontaneous feedback so as not to attach too much importance to negative feedback. For example, the following quote could be a way in which the sandwich method is used for feedback:

“Your project was very well structured and thought through from the start. However, there were some topics missing from the presentation that we had discussed at the last meeting. Nevertheless, your presentation was very successful and you certainly noticed yourself that some topics were missing, and you worked them in afterwards.”

The sandwich method is also used in everyday life, when telling friends or family something they may not want to hear. The sandwich method is also extremely popular in sales and retailing – salespeople use it to try and sell potential customers a product. Instead of criticism, however, sales people pack the investment or the price into a sandwich – the bread slices are then the advantages or possible uses of the product. These should be so convincing that the price hardly seems important any more to the customer.

Criticism regarding the sandwich method

One criticism often voiced about the sandwich method is that it could take away the value of truly being praised. The reason for this is that employees quickly see through this tactic, especially if it is used frequently. Positive feedback is therefore no longer received as honest praise, but merely as an introduction to negative feedback. In addition, the sandwich method hides the actual points of criticism in positive evaluations, so the actual criticism is lost, or the employee doesn’t grasp how important it is to understand what they’re being told, and make changes accordingly. According to those who do not like the sandwich method, in order for the employee to understand criticism, accept it, and improve their performance for the benefit of the company, criticism must be expressed clearly and unambiguously.

Concluding notes on the sandwich method

You will be the best person to determine whether or not this style of leadership suits you, and if you think your employees would respond well to it. Bear in mind that you shouldn’t use it to shirk confrontation, otherwise those who just need a gentle push will feel as if they’re getting the same treatment. You could always find a balance between harsh criticism and vacuous statements, however, and the method has the benefit of being so simple that you can adjust it to suit your needs with other communication styles and comments.

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