Would you like your compliment sandwich on white, wheat, or rye?
We’ll politely decline the sandwich overall and instead ask for a slow-cooked plate of relationship building, a side of trust, and we’ll finish it off with a tall glass of praise.
The premise for the compliment sandwich is not a bad one; build one’s confidence so that they can handle and overcome critical feedback. However, the problem with the ‘sandwich’ rests in its short-term, oftentimes disingenuous, and infrequent execution.
Rather than establish a tone of continual praise, feedback, and coaching; the compliment sandwich offers a quick, albeit ineffective, attempt to deliver criticism in a way which ideally is supposed to make both the supervisor and employee more comfortable in having the discussion. If I build them up first, they’ll feel good about themselves. I can then quickly offer the criticism and jump right back to another compliment so that they end the conversation on a high note.
The research shows that most recipients of the compliment sandwich immediately discard the initial compliment once the criticism appears. Worse still, there is a chance the criticism itself isn’t heard either because the employee is frustrated how quickly their supervisor moved away from the forced good to the supposed bad.
Critical feedback is more easily offered and received when there is deliberate and genuine relationship building taking place. When a supervisor makes specific and timely praise a part of their regimen, the employee knows they have taken a vested interest in their growth and development. This is where confidence is inspired.
Yet, what is growth without accountability? Effective supervisors deliver critical feedback from a position of care and learning, not to simply check a box in addressing an immediate performance issue. And instead of ending the conversation with another baseless compliment, the supervisor finishes the conversation by asking how he or she can support the employee moving forward. This is how trust is cultivated and the ability to communicate back and forth effectively is strengthened.
If you’ve made the compliment sandwich a fixture in your leadership style, we urge you to change your diet and load up on staples which truly inspire confidence and create the ability to provide tough feedback more effectively.