Eat the meat of the feedback sandwich

My favorite thing I learned this week was this: When we deliver praise sandwiches, people only hear the bread, not the meat.

It comes from an article in The New York Times by reporter Alina Tugend. She interviews Tim Harford, author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. He says this: “Most people offer feedback inside a ‘praise sandwich,’ where we stuff the bad stuff between two slices of compliments. But people often only hear the praise.”

The article aptly points out that young professionals want and need encouragement while seasoned pros want specifics.

Whether we’re talking to co-workers or clients, successfully delivering and receiving feedback is critical to improve these relationships. We all want to be heard. We all want to be understood. We cannot do either without eating the meat of feedback. And we won’t get it unless we ask for it and consume it like a hungry carnivore.

A movie-buff friend models the delivery of smart-meat feedback this way. Whenever we trash a movie, he retorts,  “Did you understand it?”

While his question might feel snarky, his aim is always to force the critic to explain what worked and flunked in a movie. He’s not interested in glib pronouncements that offer zero insights. He always follows up with precise questions: Was it the screenwriting, the acting, the storyline, the special effects, the landscape or the dialogue you hated? Do you have a bias against this director? What, if anything, did you like about this movie?

When we fail to ask why efforts are working or failing, we stop listening. We should embrace the investigation of a blockbuster or a box-office bomb with equal fervor.

When we eat the meat of the feedback sandwich, we understand what inspires our clients. We hear them.

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