Are We Still Doing the 'Sandwich Method'?
Ah, the sandwich method. Good or bad?
We used to be taught as supervisors and managers to deliver a bit of positive news or feedback, then slide that slice of criticism in quickly before adding the second positive comment. This was intended to leave the employee’s self-concept and motivation in tact.
It didn’t take long for employees to see it coming with the first slice of bread! And the problem is really greater than dealing a blow to the self-esteem. Once someone either detects that they are about to receive criticism, or even thinks about the possibility of this happening, their fear/threat/anxiety brain network has kicked into high gear. With the wash of stress hormones flooding them, you will sound to them like Charlie Brown’s teacher did. They may hear your voice, but will likely not take in your words or meaning. Once these physiological triggers have been initiated, they are not quickly calmed. Don’t expect this person to hear anything positive you have to offer either. And development planning?
Many bosses end a performance review (annual) with a discussion about training and development needed for the coming year. This kind of thinking demands the very part of the brain that is not functional in this situation (the pre-frontal cortex).
Does this mean we can never give constructive criticism? No. How about discipline, in a case where the employee clearly did something that cannot be repeated? In this case, in a safety situation, or one involving breaking a policy, do call the employee’s attention to the problem directly and state why it cannot happen again. Nothing else needed.
The absolute best words of advice? Have consistent, frequent conversations about performance with employees. Let this become normal and routine. If you have standing weekly or bi=weekly meetings, bring performance up here. Make it a regular item for check-ins. Examples of questions you could ask the employee:
What did you do well this week?
“Was there anything you thought you could do differently or better next time?
And as the boss, you might try these:
“Here’s what I saw you do that I liked . . . ”
“I observed you _______ and thought you could try ______ next time around.”
Here’s a brief discussion of Do’s and Don'ts in giving negative feedback. Do you have any favorite techniques that you could share with others? What about horror stories? [no names, please]
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