Avoid the Sh$t Sandwich

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Unsplash

I’m still to meet someone happy to have no news about their behaviour.

There is plenty of literature about how to give feedback. And one of the promoted methods is the Sandwich method. This method proposes to present “corrective” feedback between two positive things. So one should start and finish stating something that would boost the other person’s ego. This method’s primary concern is not to let the other person too much on the low end. And first glance, this seems to do the trick.

Allow me to enlighten you about the dangers of such a practice.

Feedback is a tool that allows one person to know which way to go. This means we should use feedback both for praise and for path correction.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many people thinking they should only employ feedback in a corrective way. So this brings me to the most dangerous outcome possible. Every time a line manager (a “boss”) asks someone to chat and starts stating something good about the person, that person’s mind will jump right into “fight-flight” mode. The individual already knows what comes next, which will be a harsh feedback moment. And when someone is on a “fight-flight” mindset, forget about stating good things to soften things out. Stress levels will increase like a rocket into the sky, and the entire message will be blocked.

Now let us pretend that one day, god forbid, that line manager wants to praise a specific behaviour, give a kudos, say thank you. The direct report will not understand, will not get the message. And we can understand why. It will start with something nice and boom … the “fight-flight” mode will trigger automatically – “because after the good comes the crap”.

People are people. We are a challenging species to deal with.

As you may imagine, this will lead to a not-so-friendly environment where people will breathe hypocrisy. And when people feel unsafe, people leave … or worst, they wither.

So let us recap.

A feedback loop should be used to keep people accountable (“the path correction talk”).

A feedback loop should also be used to let people know what we value and what we like about their performance or behaviour (“the kudos and keep-it-up talk”).

And you should not use those two simultaneously; please avoid the “Sh$t Sandwich” (sandwich method’s friendly name).

There’s more about feedback, but I will talk about it another time.

Until then, respect and be respected back. Remember that we all are humans trying to live another day to tell the tale and meet our human needs.

Bye, Ric Castelhano

(edit: text revised with Grammarly – Thanks to Nuno Valente for the feedback)