The Art of Giving Feedback Your Team Will Act On
Giving good feedback is hard. A common pattern we follow—especially when we have important negative feedback to share—is starting with something positive, addressing the problem, and ending with something else positive. The idea is that this helps the recipient feel that they have some value, and it helps the giver feel less bad about delivering negative information.
But Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says this process, which he calls the feedback sandwich, does not work.
Grant explains that there are two problems with starting and ending with positive details: either the bookending compliments come off as insincere, or the positives drown out the negatives—people tend to remember what happens first and last in a conversation, so they may gloss over the criticism, which was the main point of the conversation.
Rather than serving a feedback sandwich, Grant suggests following four steps. First, explain why you are giving the feedback. People immediately become more receptive when they understand that you’re trying to help them. Second, take yourself off a pedestal. No one likes being made to feel inferior. Next, ask if the person wants feedback. “Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they’re less defensive about it,” Grant says. Finally, and most importantly, have a transparent dialogue, not a manipulative monologue.
These steps, which echo the advice in the book What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback, help create an environment where a recipient can process and act on the information.
Effectively giving feedback is especially important when it’s about shortcomings. Whether it’s addressing chronic poor performance or isolated incidents, it’s essential sometimes to deliver critical feedback. When that’s the case, have a clear and honest conversation with concrete examples of the negative behavior, describe the adverse consequences, and ask the receiver to suggest how to correct the situation. It’s key to make sure the person receiving the feedback understands the reasoning for the critique and is involved in coming up with a solution.
The next time you need to deliver comments or criticism to your team, take the feedback sandwich off the menu. Giving good feedback is hard work, but by being direct and respectful, you help the people on your team be more effective.