Giving good feedback is an invaluable skill in our professional and personal lives. Whether it’s telling your friend how the lasagne is or telling your employee that they need to CC you on every email, it’s something we are all already doing in some capacity. Especially younger generations expect (and thrive) on more regular feedback. But are we doing it well?
We grow most when people focus on our strengths.
How to give feedback? Directly or served as a sandwich?
The ‘sandwich approach’ has been standard practice for giving feedback. This is where you place the suggestion for improvement between two positive comments, to make the feedback more digestible for the receiver.
Organisational psychologist Robert Schwartz argues that this method might undermine the feedback and the relationship. The article argues that people actually claim they would like to receive their feedback head-on: just the meat, no sandwich. When used to soften negative feedback, they are likely to think your positive feedback is not genuine.
Also, any kind of feedback is most effective when shared as soon as possible, and trying to combine feedback may delay the process. Finally, it might even be true that the sandwich method increases anxiety, as the longer you push off what you really want to say, the more tension you are likely to create in the receiver and yourself.
The power of positive feedback
It can be tempting to only address things when they go wrong. If you are using a transparent approach, it is important to also make room for moments of praise and positive feedback. Without the sandwich approach you might not be looking so hard for the positives to place around the negatives.
It has been shown that criticism provokes the brain’s “fight or flight” response and actually inhibits learning. Instead, we grow most when people focus on our strengths, as this is when we are most open to learning. Celebrating wins and positive reinforcement is also a great way to enhance performance and contribute to a supportive environment.
How to give great feedback
It’s better to lead with transparency. In this approach, you are more open about your intentions and you include the receiver more in the process. To follow a more transparent strategy, follow this structure when giving feedback:
- Check in with yourself: Are you calm enough to have a good talk?
- Micro- yes: “Do you have 20 minutes? I’d like to talk to you about how you could improve your organizational skills.”
- Data point: “We agreed that you would send me your work by 1 pm each day, yet every day this week I got it at 5 pm, instead.”
- Impact statement: “Because I didn’t get your work on time, I was blocked in my own work and couldn’t move forward.”
- Ending question/comment: (work on a solution together) “Why do you think you struggled to deliver it on time? I would suggest that you set reminders on your computer so that you can keep to the deadline better next week.”
Other tips to keep in mind when giving feedback
- Be specific, realistic and timely. Avoid generalisations and make specific suggestions for changes that could be made. Only provide feedback about something that can be changed. Finally, pick an appropriate time to give feedback, where the receiver is not in distress. Take time to prepare what you will say but don’t delay giving feedback too long after the event.
- Concentrate on the behaviour, not the person. One strategy is to open by stating the behaviour in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you would like to happen instead.
- Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions, and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.
Key take-away for feedback-givers
Both in organisations and relationships, an open feedback culture – where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback often and with ease -is best for mutual thriving. We want feedback exchanges to be about mutual learning, where both parties can agree on the structure of the meeting, can learn from each other, and can share ideas on how to move forward.
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