The Compliment Sandwich

“We really loved your presentation last Thursday. However, we’re going to have to let you go. It’s really been a pleasure working with you.”

“You are one of my best friends. I asked Janet to be my maid of honor. I’d really love it if you could make your famous cheesecake for the reception.”

We’ve all been victims of it. The Compliment Sandwich. A tried and true method for delivering even the most stinging news.

A cookie sandwich > a compliment sandwich

Sounds like a great idea: You’ll sneak in the bad news or criticism between two gushingly dripping compliments like a mother trying to hide some extra vegetables by grinding them up in the spaghetti sauce.

I started to wonder in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas come to mind – the bathroom and driving), “Is the compliment sandwich more detrimental than helpful?” I’m here to present you with no evidence and only positing my crazy theory.

Specifically, I was thinking about administrators giving feedback to teachers after observations. I’ve heard administrators and bosses in general subscribe to the idea that you MUST give some kind of criticism, “Everyone has room to grow right?” Har har.

Sure, but do we have to give criticism for everything? What if it was a perfectly good lesson? What if the teacher is in a good place and just needs some positive feedback? Believe me, a teacher who cares what you have to say will have already had the critical thought that’s about to come out of your mouth.

Then, the boss searches for something, ANYTHING positive. What if that lesson or observation was truly awful? Now you’re searching for any positive thing to say and you know it will be disingenuous. It will be teetering on the edge of a lie.

In both situations, you’re really filling in information that may not be necessary and thereby cheapening the feedback you’re giving. Instead of adding extraneous information, why not stick to what is authentic. If there was something good, share it. Maybe there was only good stuff. If it was dreadful, share that. Feedback is challenging. It can be easy to forget about the good as much as to avoid the confrontation of the bad depending on your personality type. Either way, the compliment sandwich should be a guideline more than a recipe. My advice would be to use it sparingly.

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