Feedback – The sandwich method – Part 2

Time to talk about the sacred cow of feedback – the sandwich method.

Just so you know it is not just my opinion, here are some references. This list is not exhaustive.






There are more. As I said in Part 1, Human Kinetics is different than many companies in that we make products designed to improve how people communicate and interact. We look at our own internal processes regularly. Using research, I was able to persuade my company to change how it did performance reviews, which include how to give feedback. We adopted the method that Adobe uses and removed the feedback sandwich as well. Such a change required proof and diligence. The change came because the new way was better.

For those who don’t know, the sandwich method is basically “say a positive thing, say a negative thing, say another positive thing.” It is sometimes also called the compliment sandwich, or the hamburger method. It is a fine method IF you are skilled at it AND the person you are using it with wants the feedback that way.

Reasons to use the sandwich method are:

  • May ease the sting of hearing difficult comments
  • Encourages specificity in the feedback process
  • Allows employees to increase their receptiveness to criticism
  • Enables meetings to end on a positive note
  • Can be useful for managers who find it difficult to engage in criticism

So what is the problem then? There are two major ones.

Most people aren’t good at eating these sandwiches. What am I talking about? A standard method of getting your dog to take the medicine is to hide it peanut butter. Since your dog likes the peanut butter, it doesn’t notice the medicine. That is the problem, it is too easy to pass up the “criticism” part since it is buried in the praise. Another problem illustrated by the dog-medicine analogy is that sooner or later, the dog starts associating peanut butter with the medicine. Same with people and the sandwich method, sooner or later, the moment you offer praise, the recipient starts to wonder what the bad news is.

Or to borrow from these articles

  • Including positives may undermine the criticism involved, thus rendering that criticism ineffective
  • The method trains employees to distrust praise, as they will begin to anticipate the criticism that comes along with it
  • The method detracts from praise when it is truly due
  • The method may serve more as a crutch for managers who struggle with giving feedback rather than as a tool for helping employees improve
  • It may give employees a diluted or inaccurate understanding of their work performance and what changes are required of them

According to the first study, managers liked using the sandwich method because they felt less like the bad guy. But the employees actually wanted the criticism straight up without the praise!

The second problem is implicit in the first, not only are people bad at eating them, they are bad at making them. It is too easy to make a bad sandwich. The praise can be too little, the criticism too harsh. Or the opposite, the praise is too much and criticism is too little.

Now this is in the business world where you are normally giving and getting feedback from the same people, often on a fixed, periodic basis. Why not the sandwich method as a one-time, or special circumstance?

The main plus to the sandwich method is that it is easy to teach, in theory. Just find two things to praise and one for the person to work on and you are golden. It assumes people are good at identifying items to give feedback on, good at constructing feedback, and good at relating that feedback.

For the SCA, it is often the desire to make the other person comfortable that we use it. Like the study above referenced, we don’t want to be seen as the bad guy. Because the entrant KNOWS the bad news is coming, the praise feels fake. Add to the fact that we are often judging something we know little about, how can we make a good sandwich? We praise that which is trivial and criticize that which is next to impossible. Then we have to come up with a second item to praise!

Lastly, the sandwich method is formulaic. What if I only have 1 item of feedback? What about 5? Can I make a dagwood sandwich (two praises but tons of other stuff in between)? Do I make a club sandwich (praise/criticism/praise/criticism/praise)?

The natural response is to get better, to just train people better at feedback. I agree with that. Again, there are problems. There is no requirement that people get training. There is no budget, no mandate, no way to force this training to happen. Good feedback can come in a variety of forms, some just as easy as the sandwich method. Many are more natural to use than the sandwich method. In the SCA, we seem to insist on the form, because it is easy to teach, rather than the substance, which is easier to use by both parties. While not a formal survey by any means, my canvassing and my experience is that people want the substance. Digging through the form to get it is not helpful.

I am not suggesting that everyone stop using this. I am suggesting we stop recommending it as the default method. If you are skilled at using it and your audience wants it, do it. That is one tool.

As I said in part 1, there are no binary answers here. What works is sincere, actionable, and meaningful feedback. That can take a variety of forms. It means more listening, less judgementalism. It means the person giving feedback needs to be an active learner in this situation. You probably don’t know much about the thing to be judged. Listen, learn, ask questions, figure out what this person needs, and deliver if you can. It works for performance issues in business as well. Be sincere, provide feedback that can be done, and will be meaningful to the situation. Again, this isn’t easy.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6


Feedback and Leadership – Part 1

Every living thing processes feedback constantly. Reactions to its environment, where is food, where is safety, is that a threat? As social animals, our feedback is more complex. Not only do we have biological feedback but we have a ton of social feedback to process. We are constantly scanning body language, verbal cues, written statements, olfactory senses, and more to decide how to react to another person. And we are constantly offering feedback through these same means to other people.

The process of formally giving feedback is hard. How do you overrule your unconscious feedback? What do I say? How do I say it? How will the other person(s) take it? Anyone who tells you it is easy is wrong. That is one of the few absolutes I will use in this series. It takes training and time to become good at giving feedback. Feedback is also something you have to reinforce and constantly earn the right to give. Humans are not simple.

Why should you listen to me?

Who the heck am I that I know anything about this? I have been a middle manager at my work place for 15+ years. I work at Human Kinetics (HK), Inc, a sports, health, fitness, and coaching publisher. HK has been around for over 45 years at this point and was founded by a man whose main mission was to improve coaching. Coaching IS leadership and leadership demands feedback. As a manager, I have quarterly, 1-hour trainings on how to be a good manager that includes how to evaluate and give feedback to my staff. As a publisher of books designed to educate coaches on how to do the same things, whether they are coaching a little league/park district team or coaching professional athletes, HK has many resources on how to be a good coach. Much of our management philosophy is influenced by these books.

I have over 90 hours of management training and access to materials that help professional coaches manage professional athletes. Am I an expert? No. Do I get paid millions of dollars to advise Fortune 100 companies how to manage employees? No. But I have more training than many and due to my employer and their vision, a different viewpoint than many in the business world.

In this series, I am going to explore feedback and give you tools to improve yours. Tools, not answers. There are no simple binary answers here. We are dealing with people. What works in one situation won’t in another. Strategies evolve over time. What works with one person won’t with another. I told you there are very few absolutes. You get a toolbox to help you find the right tool for the right job.

The 0th rule of feedback

I am not aware that feedback has enumerated rules. But if it did, the 0th rule would be “Feedback only matters if the other person wants it.”

For any feedback to be meaningful at all, the person must be willing to listen to it. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself. Reasons why someone may not want to listen to feedback are: they don’t like you; they don’t respect you; they feel they already know the answer; they are uncomfortable; and more along those lines.

This is the first thing you need to do when giving feedback is making sure the other person wants it. In some situations, the consent is implied. If they want to keep working for you, they can either listen to your feedback, act on it, or leave the job. If they enter a competition that will have feedback, it is assumed they want feedback. But they may not want feedback from you.

Like an performance, you need to know your audience. Do they want feedback? Do they want it in the form you are going to give it? Do they want it from you? Bobby Knight tactics may not be the best choice for a group of 5 year olds playing soccer for the first time. Spend some time getting to know who you are giving feedback to.

Likewise, identify the goal of the feedback. What are they needing/wanting to hear? What is your goal in providing the feedback? This blog is heavily SCA focused so I will use SCA examples.

A common SCA story is the unsolicited feedback. A new person comes to an event and is confronted by someone who offers feedback. “Your clothing should be this way”, “that isn’t a period technique”, etc. At best, the new person ignores the feedback. They didn’t want the input. At worst, the new person runs off never to be involved with the SCA again. You can break down any activity in the SCA that way. The first A&S competition, the first time in armor, whatever.

Spend a few moments finding out about the person, why they are there, whether they even want your opinion. “My friend wanted me to come. I just borrowed this from someone else.” No need to give feedback. Or perhaps after that initial icebreaker, they may want to hear “would you like some advice on that?”

That is your first tip then: “feedback only matters if the other person wants it.” Know who you are giving feedback to, figure out how to approach the situation so they want to receive it, and know the goals of the parties involved.

Coming soon:
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback – The Halo Effect – Part 4
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

SCA Life, Vinegar

Solera Process

There are two prestige processes for Western vinegar making, balsamic and solera.

The Solera process is named from the Spanish word for floor. The idea with this process is you are mixing the age of the liquid (in this case vinegar).

How it works is thusly (assuming it has been running for a while): Imagine a pyramid of wooden barrels. Let’s say three levels. In the top level, new vinegar is aged for 6 months. After 6 months, a quantity of vinegar is removed from the lower levels. A similar amount of vinegar is then put into the lower barrels from each of the higher levels. None of the lower barrels are ever emptied completely. So the vinegar aging in the bottom level is a mix of “new” 6 months vinegar, older 12 month vinegar from the middle layer, and “old” 12+ month vinegar that has been there for a whole. When it is bottled off every 6 months, that vinegar is mix of a variety of age vinegars.

The age categories are as such:

  • Vinagre de Jerez has a minimum of 6 months aging in wood.
  • Vinagre de Jerez Reserva has a minimum of 2 years aging in wood.
  • Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva is a new category with a minimum of 10 years aging in wood.

Now, it all has to start somewhere and that is where I am.

A few months ago, I started this vinegar and it is now ready to start aging. I think we got the sherry wine at Aldi or Trader Joe’s.

It is important to harvest your mother’s so you can use them again. The label isn’t right. I just reused the jar. I have a sherry mother 🙂

I bought and conditioned an untoasted 2L white oak barrel for this project. Here it is.

And it is reasoably full of sherry vinegar for the initial 6 month aging.

In 6 months, I need to have another batch of vinegar ready to start aging and a new barrel. 12 months from now, I add ~ half of “new” 6 month vinegar to half of this barrel. I should get another new barrel let this one age by itself. 18 months from now, I add half of the “newer” 6 month vinegar to the 12 month barrel and half to the 18 month barrel. 24 months from now, I have Reserva vinegar ready. And every 6 months after that.

Now let’s see if the fruit fly colonies will develop sentience by then.

SCA Life, Vinegar

Preparing for the ToA

I had the time and motivation so I decided to prepared for the ToA (Tournament of Arts). Next Saturday (Jan 11, 2020), about three dozen or so of the artisans from the Midrealm will head to Ayreton for the ToA. It is not a Tournament in the strict sense but it is a chance to display and talk with knowledgeable people about whatever you are doing.

For starters, here is my vinegar room.

Ok it is really my hobby room but most of it devoted to brewing and vinegar.

For starters, I needed to decide on what to display and I needed bottles. As Gertie likes to say, “the cobblers children have no shoes.” Or in this case, the vinegarie’s wife has no vinegar. I had to find enough samples for much of it but I succeeded.

I decided to go with 8 oz bottles when I could. For some vinegars, I could have used 12 oz bottles but for many samples, I didn’t have enough.

The top photo is the variety of samples from my tasting classes. Then off to wash bottles.

After the wash, I decided on what to display.

I have a mix of vinegars from alcohols I have made or commercial alcohols. I wanted to show a range of flavors and techniques.

Unless I say so specifically, the alcohol is commercial. From left to right, the Pinot Noir vinegar from the Pinot Noir I made, Prosecco vinegar, Sauvignon Blanc vinegar, Pecan Brandy Vinegar that I made the cordial, Coconut Vinegar that I made the coconut “wine”, Apple Cider vinegar, Apple Cider vinegar from a cider I made, Malt Vinegar, Sake vinegar, the two small jars stacked on each other are the Xocovez malt and the faux “balsamic”, then two different mead vinegar.

Then to decide on what else to bring.

Since I want people to taste the base alcohol, a bottle of the wine and apple cider. Some mustards made from my vinegar. A mother so people can see it. An example of the toasted oak barrels I use (this one doesn’t hold water anymore). And some documentation. I forgot to take a photo of the books.

So that is it. Twelve-ish vinegar. I need to buy some small tasting cups so a trip to Gordon Food Service is in order. I have a box of crackers.

It isn’t sexy. It isn’t flashy. But it is what I do. See you there!