Reframing What Feedback Means

Group members are often reluctant to give each other negative feedback, because they say they care about members and d o not want to hurt them. … I suggest that genuinely caring about members means giving others feedback about their behavior such that the data can be validated and the person receiving the feedback can make an informed free choice about whether she wants to change her behavior. Further, I suggest that by withholding information, members hurt each other by precluding each other from making an informed choice about whether to change ineffective behavior.
Source: Schwarz, R. M. (1994). The skilled facilitator, page 166

The Myth of the “Sandwich” Feedback Technique

Many of my clients have been taught the “sandwich” technique of giving negative feedback, which is inconsistent with the core values and assumptions of the facilitative leader approach. Using the sandwich technique, you would begin the feedback session by sharing some positive things about the person’s behavior, then share some negative aspects of the person’s behavior, and finally share again some positive aspects. People are taught that the positive-negative-positive order is designed to first put the person at ease and make her receptive to the negative feedback; then there follows the positive feedback to reduce the chance she will disagree with your negative assessment of her behavior and become defensive.

There are a couple of problems with the sandwich technique. First, it is based on the assumption that the person is best able to receive the feedback when it is given in that order. In a facilitative leader approach, you would let her know that you have some negative feedback to give (and some positive feedback if that is also the case) and then jointly design a way for her to receive the feedback.

Second, for the sandwich technique to work, you must withhold your strategy from the person (or she has to agree to play along). To see what happens if you make your sandwich strategy transparent, imagine saying something like this: “Alice, I have some negative feedback to give you. To get you receptive to the negative feedback, I’ll begin by giving you some positive feedback. Then I’ll give you the negative feedback – the main reason I wanted to talk with you today. Finally, to reduce the chance of your becoming angry, I’ll end by giving you some more positive feedback.”

People laugh when they hear this, because they realize how absurd it sounds. … In addition, after the organization teaches people the approach, people recognize it when it is being used on them, and they feel manipulated, and they resent it. Also, people do not tend to find the positive feedback credible, which makes it difficult to genuinely reinforce behavior that is effective and valuable to the organization. As a result, people sometimes stop doing the very things you want them to continue or increase.
Source: Schwarz, R. M. (1994). The skilled facilitator, page 337-338

cf.: Feedback – Behavioral Specific vs. Judgments
cf.: Guide For Constructive Feedback


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



Copyright 2021 Primary Goals - Privacy Policy