Industry Magazine Get JACK'D Magazine Winter 2019 - Page 17
“When I was preparing
for the meeting with
the CEO, I learned that
all three consultants
had tried to
compliment him, and
he saw right through
it. It was time to take
the feedback sandwich
off the menu and be
HOW DO you give feedback to a CEO who’s
twice your age? I was 25, a new professor
called in as a last-ditch, Hail Mary effort to
save a dying company. They had already fired
three consultants, so why not try me?
The CEO had been leading longer than I’d
been alive. After several weeks of watching
him in action, interviewing his senior team
and gathering data from his employees, it was
time for me to bring down the hatchet. His
company had merged with another firm and
he was still trying to figure out where to go.
His team desperately needed him to outline a
When I went to colleagues for advice, they all
told me the same thing. Put a slice of praise on
the top and the bottom, and stick the meat of
your criticism in between. It’s the compliment
sandwich, as Stewie Griffin called it on Family
Guy—a technique for giving feedback that’s
popular among leaders and coaches, parents
But when I looked at the data, I learned that
the feedback sandwich doesn’t taste as good
as it looks.
Problem 1: The positives fall on deaf ears.
When people hear praise during a feedback
conversation, they brace themselves.
They’re waiting for the other shoe to drop,
and it makes the opening compliment seem
insincere. You didn’t really mean it; you were
just trying to soften the blow.
Problem 2: If you avoid that risk and manage
to be genuine about the positives, they can
drown out the negatives. Research shows that
primacy and recency effects are powerful:
we often remember what happens first and
last in a conversation, glossing over the
middle. When you start and end with positive
feedback, it’s all too easy for the criticism to
get buried or discounted.
Giving a compliment sandwich might make
the giver feel good, but it doesn’t help the
Instead, try these four steps to make your
criticism feel constructive: