Feedback 101 – No More Feedback Sandwiches

By Alexander Quiros, PhD, MBA

Translation of picture:

One should correct someone in private and praise them in public. Those, my dear friend, are what we call manners.

(The word “educación” [education] in this picture refers to manners).


Giving and receiving feedback (both positive and negative) are important in our social interactions. Feedback can be verbal or even non-verbal (think about THE look a parent can give… you know which one I’m talking about). But it’s important to give feedback effectively. We have all been taught about feedback sandwiches where one gives a positive feedback first, then a negative, followed once again by a positive. Well research is showing that this form of feedback can be ineffective and often leads to confusing messaging.

When giving feedback, it’s important to be direct, succinct, and matter of fact. You can always prepare an individual by being compassionate and saying something like, “John/Jane, I want to share some information with you that may be hard to hear, but I’m certain you are capable of using this information to improve things.”  The information shared next needs to be easily understood, short enough to retain in short term memory, and as free as possible from unhelpful emotions.

The timing of this feedback is also important. If it’s appropriate and won’t embarrass an individual in front of colleagues or subordinates, pull them to the side and proceed to share your insight at the moment the targeted event is occurring. However, you should delay the feedback if you are feeling emotionally riled up. Strong emotions increase our heart rate and suppress the thinking part of our brain, making our message unclear and possibly psychologically threatening. In fact, some therapists use a heart monitor on a client’s finger to track heart rates during a therapy session. Once the heart rate goes past a certain point, stress hormones are released causing “emotional flooding.” This is when it’s helpful to do some breathing exercises to help regain a sense of calm and thoughtfulness in the conversation.

Once emotions are in check, the feedback given should succinctly point out the event or behavior that needs to change as well as some suggestions for improvement. There’s a difference between, “You’re really messing things up. Get it together,” and, “I’m noticing there is too much time in between activities, and the audience is getting restless. How about picking up the pace by shortening the allotted time or having extra activities for the participants.” While succinct, the first example is emotional, unclear, and, frankly, unhelpful. The second feedback statement focuses on the audience instead of the presenter, avoiding unnecessary escalations in unhelpful emotions. The second message also offers succinct suggestions. The suggestions are optional though. You could end the feedback with, “what do you think we can do about it,” and allow the target of the feedback to come up with their own solutions that you can later praise if/when they are successful. Either way, you want the person to leave the discussion feeling like there is something they can do to make things better.


Dr. Alexander Quiros is a bilingual licensed psychologist.  He is an expert on emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and mindfulness. He can help you develop these skills for the purpose of advancing your personal and/or work life. He works with individuals and is also available for group presentations or trainings. If you would like to know more about how these services can help, please use our contact form.