Feedback- looking at it from a different point of view

Author Martina KnitterMentoring Team AICR Switzerland


Within previous articles like “Feedback from the Jury” we have talked about how important Feedback can be:

  • Feedback is an oppertunity to grow
  • Feedback should be given regulary and on the spot
  • Feedback should help to understand what you are doing well and what needs to be improve
  • Feedback should motivate

But as everything in life also the matter of giving feedback and especially the way and the frequency of it can be discussed controversially. And as we mentors believe a controversy discussion can be very fruitful and will result in growth, I would like to share two different point of views.

Let us start with Kirsten Dierlof– Certified Master Coach and Author is looking in the “Sandwich technic” of feedback, the risks and problems with it – and what she believes  would be a better approach:

Why the “feedback sandwich” tastes bad

Dale Carnegie writes: writes: “Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain kills the pain.”

The structure goes like this:

Start with praise: “The way you organized your presentation is really impressive. I can follow very easily”. This is the “top bun” of the sandwich.

Follow with criticism: “What you were saying, the content, actually is wrong. I think you should research that further.” This is “the meat” or “the seitan” or “the avocado” of your criticism.

End with praise: “The little flower on the last slide is super!” This is the “bottom bun” of the sandwich.

Börk. Not appetizing for me. Here is why I don’t like this:

It feels strategic, dishonest and patronizing

The triple structure and the mix of positive and negative messages leaves me confused: am I being praised, being criticized — what is this about? Also, the structure feels like someone wants to influence or nudge me in a certain direction rather than simply sharing their observation. This may be my Germanic upbringing, but I feel I can deal with someone telling me straight on if they prefer I did something different. No sweat — I KNOW it is their perspective and not “the truth”.

It creates distrust about praise

If overused (and with me, personally, overuse means used once ?), the feedback sandwich can lead to people becoming wary of praise. Someone says something positive about me: there must be a hidden criticism lurking in the corner somewhere. Instead of enjoying the well meant praise, people start to wonder what is wrong. Not a good thing in the workplace, not a good thing in your life. It took me a long time to really be able to be happy about someone praising me and to see it as a way of connecting. A diet of feedback sandwiches probably contributed to that.

So — what to do instead?

Obviously this depends on the context, the culture, the maturity of the people involved etc. etc., so I can’t give you advice on what to do in every situation. However, there are some considerations and questions that you can ask yourself before asking someone to do something different that may be helpful:

  • How can you ensure that the person feels that you appreciate them as a person and that you are trying to be helpful and connect with them rather than disconnect and put yourself a step up from them?
  • How can you be clear on what you would like changed and why this is important to you?
  • How can you stay open for dialogue and “negotiation”?
  • How can you come to an agreement on a way forward and how can you follow up on this?
  • How can both leave the situation with a strengthened connection and appreciation of each other?

The full blog Post: Why the “feedback sandwich” tastes bad – SolutionsAcademy

A total different  matter on the same topic has Wilma Fasola. Especially with the new tendency of pressure of MUST-DO feedbacks in companies; results, risks and routines. Of course she also gives some suggestions how to do better.

Reading here some extracts from her Artikel “War ich gut” , the original is in german, translated by google:

Feedback – often even useless

… Often the problem begins even before the actual evaluation. Forced to give feedback, managers often suck things out of their fingers in order to be able to say something. In the worst case, you use the famous hamburger tactic and try to layer criticism between praise one and two – so that you don’t taste it like the obligatory salad leaf.

Even employees are not really feedback-horny – unless they already know that there is good (or at least: nothing) coming around. Much more often, they experience that the constant evaluation of this and that deprives them of their most important resource: focus time. Here a smiley, there a poll. And with every thumbs up, the clock of re-focusing (our brain takes almost 20 minutes to do this once it has been interrupted) starts ticking again….

That would be too much to bear if feedback actually brings what it is supposed to do. Does it do that? No. According to studies, only half of your employees take something concrete from a feedback conversation, and even with them, the negative points remain above all. Out of 100 employees to whom you give well-founded, decently prepared, even critical feedback, about 25 will feel so stepped on the tie that even a last touch of motivation disappears in the wind….

So only positive feedback? Not at all! If you are full of praise, the motivation is also gone. Because: If I’m already good, why should I wear myself out for you?

Feedback – with clear rules it can work

So why did feedback become such a central element in the social and professional environment? Because we believe that evaluations of cooperation are beneficial. But this is only the case to a certain extent – for very different reasons.

Therefore: Reduce the feedback and strengthen the togetherness.

Feedback is part of it, but it’s not everything – and most importantly, if you want it to be useful, it has a clear framework. A feedback culture does not arise when you “introduce” it, but when all sides benefit from it. It must be wanted by the parties involved because it brings something.

What doesn’t help:

  • Red, yellow and green smileys
  • Forced employee appraisals (wasted time for both sides)
  • Year-end meetings (who wanted to remember mistakes or achievements of 2020?)

What might work better:

  • Talk when necessary. Praise when it brings the situation with it, criticize objectively when it comes to constructive progress, i.e. in the process.
  • Create suggestions instead of erasing. Commands have no positive effect, a tip or advice in private is much more effective. And first creates connectedness.
  • Keep your mouth shut when there is nothing to say. This is more often the case than you think.

The full article from Wilma you can find here… and if you like to read more from Kirsten, sign in on her Blog- News

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