Order up! You wanted the feedback sandwich, right? If you’ve received professional criticism at any point in your career, you’re probably familiar with the dish. The recipe calls for a negative piece of feedback to be “sandwiched” between two positive notes.

Here’s an example of one a (totally and completely real) reader might provide for our blog:

“For starters, I want to say that I love the variety of topics you share! However, I wish you’d do a better job of giving us tangible solutions to the problems you address in your articles. That being said, the pictures you include are always so gorgeous!”

First off, thank you for the feedback, reader I just made up! Note how this response leads with something positive (the variety of topics we share), then follows up with the meat of the feedback (a lack of tangible solutions). To soften the blow, the sandwich is completed with a final slice of positivity (great pics!). While the feedback sandwich may feel like the perfect way to deliver constructive criticism in a non-confrontational way, it is increasingly falling out of favor in the workplace. 

What’s Wrong with a Feedback Sandwich? 

If evening out a negative statement with positivity sounds like a good idea at face value, why are leaders shifting away from this age-old formula? For one, if the positive portions of the sandwich feel forced, the whole exercise can come off as inauthentic. In other words, you’re just saying something nice in order to get the real purpose of the conversation. Furthermore, going with such an overused structure means that employees probably know what’s coming. Anxiety levels will naturally shoot up as the person receiving the cheery feedback is waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the negativity to hit. 

Instead, Strive for a Collaborative Culture of Feedback 

Thankfully, there’s an alternative path to consider if you’re still building sandwiches to provide constructive criticism critical for employee growth. It’s all about constructing a collaborative culture of feedback  Here’s how to get started:

  • Welcome feedback about your own performance first. It’s only natural to become defensive when you feel as though your work is being singled out. However, imagine how that dynamic gets turned on its head when managers lead the way! Asking for regular feedback and accepting it in good faith sets the example for the rest of the team to follow, and builds credibility for when the shoe’s on the other foot.  
  • Skip the bread and get to the meat of the matter. Timing is incredibly important when it comes to feedback. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, “It is important to give positive feedback, but saving it to offset negative feedback delays the value of the positive feedback. The research shows that feedback — positive or negative — is best shared as soon as possible.”
  • Make it collaborative. No one has all the answers – so lead with that! Rather than starting off on a disingenuous positive note, begin the conversation by offering a way forward together that recognizes there are multiple paths to a positive development. Through transparency, a controlling process becomes a collaborative one!

If you’ve lost your taste for the feedback sandwich, you’re not alone! What started as a well-meaning feast of positive and negative feedback has since lost its bite. Instead of trying to spare someone’s feelings, consider leading the way with respect, transparency and collaboration.

How do you approach providing feedback to others? Let’s do lunch in the comments section below!