The Sh*t Sandwich, and Other Tips to Giving Feedback that Doesn't Suck

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Feedback is a key ingredient to growth.

Or, as the author of the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard puts it – “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” (Yeah – I thought it was Wheaties too.)

When I was a member of Toastmasters I found out that it's not just feedback that's needed for self-growth – but good feedback.

So let's look at a few ways to give good feedback and why it works.

Listen with Intent

When you know you're going to be giving someone feedback, you need to tune your mind and your attention into a deep focus. You need to pay attention to details. For as you'll see in a moment, details are important.

Obviously sometimes the feedback isn't for something like a speech…perhaps someone has asked you to give your thoughts on a photo, or a website. In that case, you still need to crank up your focus.

Edit Your Feedback

When someone sends me their SmugMug website and asks me for my thoughts – I don't just write a bunch of bullets in an email and press “send”. I do write a bunch of bullets – things that I like and things that I would like to see improved -but before I send the email, I will be very selective of what things I want to say in my evaluation. This way, I can make sure I incorporate the rest of the points in this post.

For example, I will edit my feedback so it motivates and encourages…

Motivate and Encourage

In Toastmasters, we acknowledge that much of the fear of public speaking is the idea that our audience will judge us harshly. That we'll be boo'ed off the podium.  The same can be true with our fears to put any of our work out into the world – our travel photographs, our new business idea, or our blog posts.

So a good evaluator will recognize this fear and will structure the feedback and use words that motivate and encourage the speaker (or the creator) to continue to give speeches, take photos, write, etc.

The best way that I know to give feedback that motivates and encourages is to use the Sh*t Sandwich technique.

The Sh*t Sandwich

So lets say you're evaluating a photo someone wants critiqued in a forum. You jot down 6 things you see that could be improved on – and 4 things that you liked about the image.

By using the Sh*t Sandwich technique – you lead off your evaluation with something positive and you finish the evaluation with something positive. This helps the person receiving the feedback to feel unthreatened and motivated to improve.

What do you put in-between the positive beginning and end? That's right – the sh*t. The “negative” stuff. The “room for improvement” information.

For example, here's a tiny sh*t sandwich for evaluating a speech:

  • I really enjoyed the pace of your speech. You were easy to listen to and I heard every word. (something positive)
  • You decided to read your speech from your notes. I think that's fine, but I wish you could have given me and the audience more eye-contact. Perhaps you could practice your speech a bit more and try not to use the notes as much. (room for improvement)
  • You were really funny. I loved the joke you made at then end – that even cracked you up. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful speech. Well done! (something positive)

There you have it – the Sh*t Sandwich.

Give Your Opinion

You'll notice in the example above that I spoke from my own experience of the speech. When I am giving an evaluation – it's just my opinion. I don't speak on behalf of the entire audience. It's important that the person requesting feedback understands that.

Be Specific

Now that I've given and received dozens of well-crafted evaluations through Toastmasters, I cringe when I hear someone say “It's good” when someone else requests feedback.

“It's good.” tells me nothing – except you either didn't pay attention, don't care, or don't know how to give good feedback.

If an employee asks for an evaluation, get specific.

If a friend wants you to read a resume or cover page, do them a favour and get specific.

Don't Criticize

Criticism is a relationship killer. If you're asked to give your opinion or feedback, realize that someone is putting themselves out there. And there is great responsibility to be respectful of that person and their work.

Words can lift people up, or they can bring them down. Choose your words carefully.

Your Turn

Do you have a photo, a website, a blog post, or a business idea you'd like to receive some feedback on?

Leave a comment below – add a link to your “thing” (if you have one) – and I'll give you some feedback that hopefully motivates, encourages, and helps you grow.

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