Some sandwiches don’t have flavour!

When it comes to feedback and evaluations if there’s one thing I hate it’s the “feedback sandwich.”

Some organisations that claim to train mangers and human resources staff still use this method of feedback and evaluation and it’s just awful.  Here’s why.

People know it’s coming.

This message is old fashioned. Everyone knows it’s coming! Everyone knows you sandwich bad news with good news.  “Hi John, I’m going to give you feedback. First I’ll give you some good news, then some bad, then some more good. I think you’ll take the bad news better that way and you’ll leave here on a high and not be upset with me.” It’s uncomfortable, it’s old and it’s patronising. Stop it!

It makes potentially incorrect assumptions.

By sandwiching your feedback you are assuming the person you’re evaluating cannot cope with bad news. What you’re about to say may come as no surprise to them but you sticking it in the middle of two pieces of good news is assuming they’re incapable of taking on board what you’re saying. Personally I think this says more about you than them. Are you incapable of giving bad news or telling someone where you feel they need to improve? If that’s right then are you in the right position? If it’s your job to tell someone where they need to improve and you have to nest it in cottonwool positivity I’d suggest you may need some training.  Thats not to say you need to be mean, but you, like your staff, need to be effective!

It’s highly ineffective!

The theory of primacy and recency states that “What you hear first you remember longest, what you hear last you remember first.” You’ll see there is nothing mentioned about the bit in the middle. This is because what you hear in the middle is sandwiched between what you heard first and last and those are the pieces you remember. So, while you’re tying to get someone to improve they’re going to walk out of the meeting and remember mostly the first and last things. If you’re using the awful sandwich method then those things they’re remembering will be the good stuff. The things you want them to improve on will be forgotten.

So what can you do differently?


Plan your feedback. Write out what you need to say to make sure all the points are covered.

Be Upfront!

Be upfront and be proud. If you’re giving someone some negative feedback it’s because they’re doing something wrong but you think they’re worthy of a second chance and have the ability to change. Surely if you didn’t you wouldn’t be bothering and you’d be working out how to get rid of them or avoid giving feedback.

Negative First!

“So John, I’m going to give you some feedback and I’m going to start with where you can make some improvements and give you some suggestions on how you can implement those improvements.” You’ve prepared them for some negative feedback and told them you’re going to give them a way of fixing it – which is what all good feedback should do. As they say “rip off the bandaid!” quickly. Get the bad news out the way and end on the good. Think about primacy and recency, as mentioned above. They receive the negative news first so will remember it longest. If you’ve presented it in the right way it will have come over as constructive and you’ll have given them something to work with. As this is the information they’ll remember longest they’re more than likely to work on those improvements and become better. As the positive feedback came last and this is what they’ll remember first, their memories of the feedback and evaluation session, and of you, will also be positive.

OR Positive First!

One of the things I’ve talked about (a lot) is how I evaluate myself after almost any situation and I do it with three questions.

  1. What did I do well?
  2. What can I improve on?
  3. How can I implement those improvements?

Self-evaluation is essential if you want to improve. You’ll see with these three questions that, although nothing negative is explicitly mentioned, it’s still asking how can I make improvements.  That, in itself, will look at the negative.  You may ave also noticed it’s done in reverse of the previous paragraph with the positive coming first.  You’re not using the sandwich and you’re still effectively using the technique of primacy and recency. This feedback can be worked on and positive results expected.

If you take a look at a Toastmasters Pathways manual when it comes to giving feedback you’ll see it’s done just similar to above.

  • You excelled at:
  • You may want to work on:
  • To challenge yourself:

Once again, effective evaluation has taken place and the receiver has something positive they can remember and something else to work on challenge themselves with.

Whichever method of feedback you use, positive first, negative first, just please stop with the “feedback sandwich.” It’s truly awful. Everyone knows it’s coming and it doesn’t help.

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