The dark art of feedback – and not a sandwich in sight

Time and time again in employee surveys and focus groups, we see the same old story popping up: feedback either doesn’t exist or is poorly done.  So, what is the secret to this dark art of feedback and how can you create a culture where feedback is helping you to reach your business goals?

Start by creating a positive feedback culture
Yes, that’s right, if you are going to start embracing a culture where people can openly give and receive feedback, they need to start at a place where they feel comfortable, and that’s giving and receiving positive feedback. Not only is it easier to give, but positive feedback is lighter in weight: you need to provide more of it to balance the impact of negative feedback. How often have you stewed over a criticism, and let a kind word pass you by? It’s just how us humans work, we hear the negatives much louder than the positives.

Avoid the sandwich
When you are ready to start giving more constructive feedback, avoid the feedback sandwich - negative feedback, sandwiched between two pieces of positive feedback - also known as the s*it sandwich. And, for good reason: it can sound disingenuous and prevents the most important part of your feedback having the impact you need. The positives will seem meaningless and won’t be heard, even if they are reasonable, people will dwell on the negativity. You should of course end on a positive but, this should be about how you can support the person to improve: could you coach them next time this situation arises, could you introduce them to someone who has this skill?

Situation + Behaviour = Impact
Most of us want to be liked and this is putting us off having difficult conversations because we fear the person will think less of us in some way, or it will affect a friendship. However, we also want to feel like we’re helping others to improve and achieve, so we must be brave enough to help each other by showing people how they could be even better. Furthermore, as leaders, we should be helping our colleagues to live the behaviours that the business sees as underpinning its culture. So, next time you have a difficult conversation try this:

  • Situation: Start by explaining the situation, what happened and when. Set the scene to keep your feedback specific e.g. when we were in the presentation this morning...

  • Behaviour: Provide facts on the behaviour displayed: this isn’t about the person, it’s about the action they took in a specific situation; keep to the context of the discussion, so it doesn’t become a judgement on the individual and interpreted as a personal attack e.g. ...I noticed that you said ‘erm’ a lot when you were presenting...

  • Impact: Explain the impact of the behaviour, sticking to the facts rather than perceptions. Don’t involve other people’s opinions of the situation: this is your feedback and you should own it – if someone has something else to say, they should deliver it themselves e.g. distracted from the delivery of your key message, so I wanted to make sure you were aware, so you can avoid this in the future.

Make sure your feedback is constructive, honest and, most importantly - kind. No-one receiving feedback wants to feel like they are being told-off. After all, very few people come to work to deliberately do wrong.

We must treat people how we wish to be treated ourselves. Be ready to listen and make suggestions for how things could have been handled differently and ask how you can support them.

Even positive feedback needs to be well-constructed; don’t just say ‘great job’, be specific on the situation, behaviour and the impact.

Practise makes perfect
Learning how to give great feedback takes time. Use every opportunity to give it: your family, kids, friends…and with your colleagues, of course. We wish you luck and courage – with no s*it sandwich in sight. 

Need help creating a culture of feedback? Enthuse Communications specialises in shaping culture and providing Communications Training. Contact us for more details: if you provide the coffees, we’ll bring the lunch, but no sandwiches of course.   


Suze HowellComment