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Star psychologist Adam Grant explains why we need to do away with ‘the compliment sandwich’

The “sandwich technique,” also known as a “compliment sandwich” or “feedback sandwich,” has been a tool for delivering criticism since the 1940s. But it really became something of a workplace staple after 1984, thanks to Mary Kay Ash’s book “People Management.”

The idea seems sound enough. The deliverer of the criticism would first offer a compliment to the recipient, followed by the actual feedback, then another bit of praise. This should theoretically allow the criticism to be received without bruising any ego or hurting any feelings. Everybody wins.

But according to organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant, the compliment sandwich “doesn’t taste as good as it looks.”

In various interviews, podcasts, social media posts and even a Substack article, Grant has chalked up the compliment sandwich ineffectiveness to two major shortcomings.

One being that people are simply too familiar with it. So whatever compliment is given, no matter how genuine it may be, people know what’s coming next and they begin “waiting for the other shoe drop.” Knowing the compliments are obligatory can actually make someone take the criticism ever more personally.

Two: the opposite can happen. Because people tend to remember the first and last parts of a conversation, the criticism might be downplayed or outright buried underneath the positive feedback. This goes especially for narcissists, Grant notes.

Luckily there is a kind, yet efficient way to give some tough love. And it all boils down to one simple sentence:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

The phrase comes from a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Stanford,who were able to increase a student’s openness to criticism by at least 40% just by using those 19 words.

As Grant explains, this strategy works because it conveys an intention to help a person become the best version of themselves. “It’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success.”

Of course, using the exact words isn’t mandatory. The point is focusing on helping someone improve, rather than attacking or patronizing them.

To that point, Grant also has a few other helpful pointers, like not assuming a position of superiority, asking if the person is open to feedback first (Grant attests they usually welcome it) and lastly, keeping the language transparent, not manipulative.

At the end of the day, most people want to grow, become better people, and live up to their potential. Remembering that one little truism can go a long way.

Source: Upworthy
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