Don’t want to be a bad manager? Stop feeding Shit Sandwiches

One of the most popular methods of delivering difficult employee feedback is, well, shit. Here’s why and what you should do instead…

I recently ran into a friend who mentioned how she uses the Shit Sandwich to deliver feedback.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Shit Sandwich is a technique for delivering feedback popularized by the classic management read, The One Minute Manager. It’s when you layer your feedback “good-bad-good.” You say one complimentary thing to your coworker (one slice of bread), then offer the critique or piece of feedback (the “shit” filling in the middle), and then bookend it with another complimentary comment (the other slice of bread).

My friend and I went back and forth about it. We disagreed. I don’t think the Shit Sandwich works at all.

On the surface, it seems like a solid tactic. You help the person know what they’re doing well, which is great. It’s always good to give positive reinforcement. And it’s nice to know there’s a handy framework when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Telling someone what they might not want to hear is never fun.

However, the Shit Sandwich can easily backfire. Here’s why…

It’s predictable.

Most people have been fed the Shit Sandwich before — so they know what’s coming. You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to add cushioning before and after the bad news.

It feels disingenuous.

Because it’s predictable and feels formulaic, it can come across as fake. As a result, the good things you said will be labeled as “not true” because, to the recipient, it’ll feel like you were obligated to say these “good things.”

People tune out the good, and zoom in on the bad.

Oftentimes, even if what you point out as the “good things” will be cast aside entirely. People tend to have heightened sensitivity about what’s being critiqued when they know what’s coming, and when the “good stuff” feels fake.

The reality is that the Shit Sandwich doesn’t make the other person feel comfortable — it only makes you feel comfortable. No one likes to be seen as “the bad guy” or a heartless leader. So you pepper in the “good stuff” around the “bad stuff” to make you feel more comfortable in delivering the news.

You layer the feedback “good-bad-good” for your own benefit. Not theirs. Seems pretty shitty, to me.

If anything, the Shit Sandwich should be called what it is because you’re simply feeding the other person shit.

So what should you do instead? Read the four things that managers do (that bad managers don’t) when delivering honest feedback.

You don’t have to deliver shit.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.

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