Want a sandwich? Feedback negotiations


Have you ever heard of the “feedback sandwich”?

It’s a meal of feedback, usually dished up with two slices of “great feedback”, with a stingy schmear of “bad feedback” in the middle. Here’s what it tastes like:

“You’re doing really great on your KPIs for this quarter, which is excellent. I did want to mention that your meetings don’t usually run so well, but you’re doing a great job with everything else, so keep it up”.

Is the feedback an issue or isn’t it? If so, the message needs to be delivered in a way that it doesn’t lose impact.

If it’s not an issue, then don’t mention it at all.

What are we fearful of?


Are we really that worried about upsetting someone or hurting their feelings? Or is it the more ‘hard’ stuff of our fears: reputation, litigation, and staff attrition?

When did we become so fearful of telling someone exactly what they needed to hear? What is it, that we aren’t saying?

Rarely would you hear an accountant say “I guess the fact you’re not turning a profit doesn’t matter, as long as you’re enjoying yourself”, or a lawyer say “that workplace accident you inflicted will probably just work itself out”.

It would probably sound more like “you’re still not making any profit after 8 years. Do you want to lose your house?” or “your approach to this serious situation is looking at costing you millions of dollars in payout, plus your business reputation is on the line”.

If we’re paying a professional, they tell us unfiltered truths and we welcome it. We feel ‘ripped off’ if we get a watered-down version and we taint them with giving bad advice.

So why do we find it so difficult in the workplace?

Do you want to be a brilliant employee? Start by being brave…“Brave leaders are never silent about hard things” Brene Brown.

When feedback is delivered poorly…

or not delivered at all a whole host of issues appear:

  • We lose efficiency
  • Lost trust in our ability
  • Reputation of leaders and managers is tainted
  • Drop in performance and revenue
  • Teams become disjoined
  • People resign
  • …the list goes on

Here are 6 things to consider when having a Bold Conversation about feedback

 1. Giving feedback is generous
If you genuinely want someone to improve, then telling them how to do it is very generous of you.

Not giving feedback does not help someone improve, especially if you know how to help them.

2. Face to face conversation
Even if you are remote – get on a video conference. It’s the most respectful way of having a feedback conversation.

Avoid. Email. Always.

3. Tell the truth
Don’t water the impact down, don’t hide from the facts of the feedback. Don’t lie, however ‘white’ it may be.

Difficult conversations, when delivered correctly, will be difficult. To quote Brene Brown “Choose courage over comfort”.

4. Start your Bold Conversation with impact
Not a punch, as such, but if your feedback is serious or important, you need your message to be understood right from the start, with the right impact.

I know, I know… it’s much nicer to ‘butter them up’ first, or have some small talk or give them all the great feedback to begin with.

If you want your Bold Conversation to be heard and you seek a change in behaviour or outcome, then avoid those things.

Here are some ways to start your Bold Conversation:

  • I observed something in this morning’s meeting, would you be open to receiving some feedback about it?
  • I need to discuss something with you that is difficult, however I genuinely want you to improve so would you be open to talking this through with me?
  • I need to speak with you about something that is confronting. I can only ever be 100% honest with you and I wouldn’t be doing that if we didn’t have this conversation
  • There is an element of your behaviour upsetting some team members, would you please be open to talking this over with me?

5. Seek a reply
Talk the concern through in detail. Seek their point of view. Ask questions to explore the situation and resolution.

6. Ask how you can help them
After all, this problem is actually your problem too, given it is negatively affecting you in some way.

If you can muster the courage to master Bold Conversations when giving feedback, you’ll notice a difference in how your team communicate and perform and you’ll be able to get on with business.

Whilst delivering feedback in the right manner is an important skill to learn, how to receive feedback is also crucial. Read about how to receive feedback with openness in this article.

Side point: helping organisations with Bold Conversations in giving feedback is some of my most rewarding work, given the major changes you can see when feedback is delivered correctly.