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Stop Serving the Shit Sandwich

One of the widely used strategies for communicating challenging feedback to employees is, well, shit. I remember maybe 15 years ago I had a meeting with a manager and before going in my colleague said "You are getting the shit sandwich get ready." I had no idea what he was talking about but then I realised. 


In case you're not acquainted with it, the Sandwich Method is a feedback delivery technique introduced by the well-known management book, The One Minute Manager. This involves framing your feedback in a "positive-negative-positive" sequence. You start by expressing a compliment to your colleague (the first slice of bread), then provide constructive criticism or feedback (the shit), and conclude with another positive remark (the second slice of bread).

What a stupid technique that is! Why? Because humans don't work this way. 


Firstly, we know the drill so we are kind of ready for the bad news. We are just waiting for it to hit us in the face. 


Secondly, people are so bad at using this technique that you get lost in the waffle. Many times I left wondering about what am I doing right and what am I supposed to change. And how? What is the actual issue? That's a waste of time, right?


Thirdly, even if the message is clear the brain may get confused failing to separate the three different messages. It feels like a rollercoaster ride, going up (good news) then crashing and burning (bad news) and then lifting you again, and then the ride ends. Wow, what an adrenalin journey. 


Fourthly, this technique is designed to protect the feedback giver and not to cushion the blow for the person we are giving the feedback. Just pay attention to managers they are so funny with their long uncomfortable speeches thinking if they say enough good we will not be upset with them. A confident person will never apply this technique! 


Fifthly, men tend to focus on the good news and women tend to focus on the bad news. So this is kinda not fair:-) 


So what do we do? We are going to be straight, honest, clear, candid but kind. We are not going to confuse the person but will say that it's not going to be good news. 


How to structure it?

1, Introduce the conversation - ask permission “Can I talk to you for 2 minutes?”

2, Empathise and prepare - ”It will be difficult, awkward, or I have bad news..”

3, Describe the behaviour or deliver the bad news - "I have noticed..."

4, State the impact of the behaviour or the bad news. 

5, Ask the person for their perception of the situation “What are your thoughts?”

6, Make a suggestion or a request for a solution if applicable. 

7, Build an agreement on the solution if applicable. 

8, Thank the person.

9, Check back in with the person the next day to show that there is no bad air you just had to deliver a message. This is super important. Go for a coffee. 


Delivering bad news shouldn't go on for long max 2-3 minutes. Nobody wants to hear for an hour how bad they are or that the company made a decision that is now negatively impacting the employee. Details of such a decision can be discussed later. 


The way to deliver bad news well is: confidence, speed, and clarity. Don't beat around the bush but deliver a straight clear message. And here is an even greater secret to having your negative feedback received well. If you continuously provide positive feedback and tell people when they do well you then won't feel uncomfortable delivering negative feedback occasionally. 


Stop serving the shit sandwich and learn to be confident. 


PS: L&D please stop training people on decades-old practices that are now discredited by new information. Thank you!


Here is the FBI guy how he delivers the bad news:



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