How Managers Can Use the Sandwich Technique in the Workplace

How Managers Can Use the Sandwich Technique in the Workplace

The “Sandwich Technique” is an effective method that managers can utilize in the workplace for a gentler approach when giving constructive criticism. It is also used by managers who need to give bad news to an employee. This tool is a good resource in assisting managers who are nervous about being the messenger when dealing with either of these two issues. In this article, the sandwich technique will be described as it pertains to giving constructive criticism to employees. Resources which can assist managers in this process will also be provided.

Basic Definition of the Sandwich Technique

In a nutshell, the sandwich technique can be described as a tool managers use to give employees negative feedback with a positive twist. The implementation process is pretty straightforward as shown below.

  • Provide a positive comment to the employee
  • Give the constructive criticism with an affirmative tone
  • Offer another positive observation to the employee

Research has shown that the ratio between positive to negative comments is more effective if the ratio is at least 5 to 1. Basically, for every negative comment spoken to you, it is important for your emotional and mental well-being that you receive 5 positive comments to “cancel” out the negative effects of the original comment. Author Betty Lochner, Executive Coach and founder of Cornerstone Coaching & Training stated, “We should be saying 80% positive and not more than 20% negative comments to each other.”  

Benefits of Using the Sandwich Technique

There are some managers who resent or dislike the task of giving constructive feedback to employees. However, this feedback process is essential to assisting employees in their professional growth and development—as well as also keeping the company working like a well-oiled machine. The employee needs to see the manager as someone who has a backbone and is not afraid to be forthright. Yet, to be effective, the process needs to be a positive one for both parties involved. The major reason managers are reluctant to complete this process is because of apprehension over possible employee resentment and aggressive or retaliatory behavior. If a manager can realize the ultimate benefits of utilizing this constructive process, he or she will be more likely to begin to anticipate sharing feedback with employees.

There are two major benefits of managers utilizing the sandwich technique in the workplace. The benefits are listed below.

  • The sandwich method helps to soften the blow in sharing the criticism when first offered with praise and then followed by praise.
  • Starting off with praise helps the manager ease into the possibly tense discussion before explaining where there is room for improvement.

How to Utilize the Sandwich Technique

As discussed, it is important to begin the conversation with praise, add in the constructive criticism and then wrap it up with more praise. Always end the discussion on a good note. The following steps will discuss how to use this technique with your employees.

1. Open Up with a Slice of Bread

Begin the discussion with an observation of some action that has produced an effective result or a quality this person has which has been beneficial in his or her task completion. Control your own body language or nonverbal communication and maintain a non-judgmental tone at all times. Keep your gestures non-confrontational and be warm and friendly. This will help in setting a positive tone for the conversation.

  • Example – Share that you have observed this individual’s excellent team spirit during work projects and how invested this person seems in encouraging others during the work day.

2. Add the Meat or Filling to the Sandwich

This is where the rubber meets the road. You can’t keep showering on the praise, but need to get to the heart of the matter. Before you decide to discuss this issue with the employee, you need to have a listing of all the specific instances of negative behavior. If you want to promote effective change in the workplace, generalizations won’t cut it here. Remember to add these examples into the conversation with a constructive and still positive tone. Don’t use this time as an opportunity to blast this person with a laundry list of mistakes and negative behavior. Try to keep your “filling” to 1 – 3 major issues or you will negatively impact this individual even when closing with praise.

  • Example – Explain the 1 – 3 specific examples and share how the behavior negatively impacts this individual as well as others in the office. In continuing with the first example, tell this person that his or her exuberance and zealous behavior has caused some interference with other office staff. Explain that positive energy is good, but there needs to be balance in all interactions with coworkers so as not to offend anyone else.

3. End with a Slice of Bread

This is where you can end the conversation on a positive note. Reiterate the observation you shared in step # 1 and explain how that has made a positive impact in the workplace. Make certain that your body language and tone has stayed affirmative throughout the entire discussion.

  • Example – Repeat your earlier sentiments and explain that you have had positive feedback from other coworkers who have appreciated this individual’s optimistic perspective. This is also where you can offer the employee resources or access to the HR department for future assistance in dealing with this issue and continuing to grow and develop strength as an employee.

Resource for Managers in Utilizing this Technique offers an excellent resource for managers who want to learn how to more effectively provide feedback to their employees. One of their articles, "Giving Feedback" shares tips on positive observations and how to keep team members’ performance high and well-integrated.

As a manager, you will have more success in communicating negative feedback to your employees if you utilize the sandwich method as described in this article. Always begin with a positive observation of affirmative behavior or a character trait. Offer the constructive criticism with a positive tone and friendly demeanor. Then end the conversation on another positive note with a reiteration of the praise.



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