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Curiouser Science Lessons, No. 4: Giving Feedback

Time to Toss the “Feedback Sandwich”

Our coaches told us giving feedback is a key skill to leading effective teams–and one that leaders can develop through coaching. What else should you know about cultivating this skill? We turned to the scientific literature to find out. 


Perhaps you’ve heard of the “feedback sandwich.” It’s the often-cited idea that squishing your constructive feedback in between softer cushions of positive remarks can make criticism more palatable. 


According to recent research, this approach is not always the best move. In one study, researchers Amy Henley and Florence Reed at the University of Kansas evaluated different feedback sequences in an experimental setting, examining participants completing office tasks such as filling out timesheets and folding brochures. These participants then received positive and constructive feedback in different ordered sequences, and the researchers evaluated their subsequent performance.


They found that when offering feedback after performance, participants who were offered a constructive comment first, followed by two positive comments, were more effective than those who received a “feedback sandwich.”


While this is one study, the research seems clear that ending on a constructive comment, by and large, will decrease performance. So if you have feedback for your teams or direct reports, remember to end on a high note.

This article was featured in Torch’s newsletter, Curiouser. Each month, we deliver the latest research, stories, questions, and insights about the art and science of coaching to your inbox. Sign-up and join a community of people who are passionate about growth, learning, and leadership.

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