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Say No to the Empathy Sandwich – Giving Effective Feedback

No one likes giving people negative feedback. Giving negative feedback often makes both the feedback deliverer and the recipient feel badly. To make everyone feel better, we dress negative feedback up with pickles and relish, otherwise known as The Empathy Sandwich.

The Empathy Sandwich in action: “You’re doing really great. Now you did almost cost the company $50,000, but in general, things are going great.”  

The Empathy Sandwich is plain wrong, wrong, wrong. It leaves people unclear, wondering if there is a problem. Instead of softening negative feedback with positive platitudes on both ends, tell people you’ll be providing positive and negative feedback as things happen and then separate both types of feedback.

Here’s how you can set the expectation that you’ll be providing balanced feedback:

Giving feedback to people you manage: “As your manager, my job is to help you be successful. As a result, I’ll tell you what I see, as I see it. I’ll give you both positive and upgrade (negative) feedback in a timely way. Because if I don’t, you’ll learn nothing from working with me.”

Paving the way to give feedback to peers and those at a higher level:  “We see each other work and are in a unique position to provide each other with feedback. If you see me do something really great or not so great, I’d like to know. I promise to be receptive.”

Delivering feedback and avoiding The Empathy Sandwich:  When you give feedback separate the positive from the negative. You could say something like, “I want to talk about a few things today. Here are some things that are going well… Now, I also have something to talk with you about that is not going as well… After you deliver the negative feedback, say something like,  “I know there is a tendency to dwell on negative feedback. I want to remind you of the positive things we talked about today.”

People can handle negative feedback. They won’t quit if you’re honest about their performance. They will likely become defensive and get upset for a time. That’s ok! Your job when giving feedback is to be clear, timely and specific. Worry about your delivery. Ensure you have the relationship to deliver the feedback. Don’t worry so much about the response.

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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