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Why I Never Use the ‘Sandwich Technique’

June 25, 2013

As leaders, your number one job is managing people and helping them to achieve. One of your greatest tools in this regard is the feedback you give to your team. You want to make sure you are sending the right messages in a clear way to provide them with the information to steer their activities and behaviours towards success. But, giving tough feedback is not easy. The ‘sandwich technique’ was invented as a way to deliver the hard messages while surrounding them with compliments so it supposedly lessens the blow to the recipient’s ego. I must say that I strongly dislike this highly regarded feedback tool and I think it is completely ineffective. I want to tell you how to deliver your feedback in a way that will lead to greater success while saying NO to the Sandwich!

I believe the ‘Sandwich Technique’ is completely inauthentic. I know it is not easy to deliver the tough news, but I want you to be respected as a straight shooter and have your message land clearly without losing its focus by trying to soften it down.

I know people who have been fired and have no idea why. Their boss insists she gave the employee several warnings. But here within lies the problem. The message was not clear if the Sandwich Technique was used. The staff member walks away from those feedback sessions thinking that he/she is doing well. Sure, there might be one little thing to improve upon but overall, I’m doing great so nothing really needs to change. Just like the song from Meatloaf goes, ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’

I challenge the leaders I work with who may be tempted to use the Sandwich Technique in their feedback to really think about why they would deliver tough feedback in that manner. The first response I usually hear is, ‘I don’t want to hurt the feelings of my staff member.’ Then I challenge the leader again and say, ‘ What part of you has a hard time delivering the honest truth?’ And then we take a look at this and where else this way of thinking may actually be hampering the leader’s effectiveness.

It may not always be pleasant to hear or give tough messages, but wouldn’t you rather have someone be straight up with you? If you are tempted to use the ‘Sandwich,’ consider that your staff members are stronger than you give them credit for. They want to grow, learn and improve. And when you deliver the message in a way that reflects your wish for them to grow and develop while stressing that you care about them, this is what will motivate them to reach higher.

My words of advice on giving feedback. Be courageous. Be true to yourself and to the other person. Show them you care. Motivate them to be more. And in return, you will be more.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2013 10:44 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The “ham sandwich” approach should never be used in any type of employee valuation. Mentoring and coaching employees are a large part of what I do these days. Teaching people new to my industry is confusing enough without giving out mixed messages. I try to tackle one thing at a time, keeping the instruction and/or critisium about that specific issue. In my opinion it makes more of an impact on the issue you are dealing with.

    The other thing I have learned is the more good things I compliment them on – the better they become.

    There is never any question in my staff’s mind whether I am proud of them or change is required!!

    • June 26, 2013 8:14 pm

      Great comments Sue. I agree that sharing the good feedback is just as important as sharing the areas for improvement. It really comes down to communicating the messages you want to in a clear fashion.


  2. Steve permalink
    July 25, 2013 5:50 pm

    Love the piece. Sometimes people just need to be told and trying to be the “nice guy” risks the employee actually getting the message.

    • July 28, 2013 1:13 pm

      Hi Steve.
      Glad you enjoyed my article. I always think people should take the high road when delivering feedback and be as authentic and caring as possible. But, the key is to be honest and straight!!

  3. Olumide Idowu permalink
    July 26, 2013 1:24 pm

    I find your comments quite profound and a bold departure from what I am being made to realize is the Canadian norm for giving feedback,particularly in professional work environment. I am a recently landed skilled immigrant with considerable managerial work experience from outside Canada.I was shocked when I was confronted at a training that it is not permissible to be blunt/frank when giving feedback to subordinates,in order not to demoralize people or incite avoidable litigation’s. I have taken time to reflect on the motive of the concept of sandwich and do not think it is ill-intentioned. I am however of the strong opinion that Managers need to exercise informed discretion when using feedback.I think it is unfair for a supervisor to be soft or skirt issues when a direct report needs honest/blunt feedback in order to keep his job or sustain the confidence of his/her employers. Internationally trained professionals will continue to have issues with adjusting quickly to professional life in Canada,if they work with Managers who are too scared to bite the bullet in relation to giving honest feedback to someone who needs to learn the rope quickly in a new country. Though still searching for a job that fits my skills and experience,I will be honest to confess that I do not pray to work with people who will not tell me the truth at the right time.

    • July 28, 2013 1:18 pm

      It sounds like some of the training you have received here does not agree with your management philosophies. I think the great thing about Canada is it is all about individuality. I would encourage you to exercise what you think is the best management style for you. I commend you for being honest as a manager and I agree with you that being straight forward is the best way to deliver feedback. I think the key is to deliver such honest feedback with a caring heart that shows you are concerned about the individual’s career and his/her own development, thus why you are telling them the truth from your perspective. Keep honing your unique style of leadership and look for a company that suits your style (if you can’t find you, create your own!!!) Anything is possible and the road to success is not always clean and straight. Good luck!

  4. Kristi D permalink
    August 15, 2013 3:15 pm

    Love this post, Carey-Ann! I couldn’t agree more – honesty is the best policy!

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