Slay the Sandwich

(This is the “S” installment of the series “Alphabet for Leaders.”)

It’s nearly instinctive to buffer bad news with good. Additionally, it’s standard practice to balance negative feedback with positive. It’s called the feedback sandwich. It sounds effective on paper. It seems right but it isn’t. I suggest it’s time to slay the feedback sandwich.

An ineffective approach

When you begin a feedback session with a compliment, what do recipients think? They think, “Oh boy, what have I done now?” Am I right? When it happens to you, aren’t you sitting there waiting for the other shoe to drop?

You sit there anticipating the bad news before it arrives. Inevitably, the shoe drops and the negative feedback hits. You’re thinking, “I knew it.” After the negative feedback, you see the positive comment coming from a mile away. However, by that time, your mind is focused on the corrective comments you just heard.

What’s the problem?

The net effect of the feedback sandwich is it discounts positive feedback.

What’s the alternative to the feedback sandwich?

Stop destroying the power of encouraging statements by using them to buffer or balance bitter pills. Kill the sandwich. If you have negative feedback, simply give it.

An essential condition.

In order to kill the sandwich, create a work environment soaked in encouragement. Ken Blanchard’s experience indicates it takes four positive statements to balance one negative. “Over doing” positive feedback establishes a natural platform for negative feedback.

Who should apply the 4 to 1 rule?

Positive environments don’t magically appear. They are intentionally nurtured by skillful leaders who use their influence to create places where people love to work. With this in mind, everyone needs to intentionally “over do” positive feedback; parents, spouses, leaders, managers, and employees. When was the last time you said a good word?

If you liked this post, I think you’ll enjoy “Positive Talk.”


I’ve taken an hard line on a soft topic. Please feel free to offer an alternative approach.

What positive feedback strategies or examples can you suggest?

What other “S” leadership words can you offer the LF community?