Giving critical feedback to someone can be a very sensitive task. People can be easily offended and giving feedback can be as difficult for some people as receiving it. Often feedback can come across as harsh and the recipient can automatically reject the content even if the feedback is for their own benefit. So how can you make feedback a comfortable and enlightening experience with the highest chances of it being accepted effectively?

Believe it or not, the US Army actually had this very question. Militaries worldwide are known for utilizing the harshest forms of feedback as part of their training and discipline. However, the US Army decided to launch a research into this practice by hiring NLP Master Trainer and author of numerous books, Wyatt Woodsmall in order to determine the optimal method for officers to deliver feedback to new recruits.

Woodsmall’s research led him to the creation of the Feedback Sandwich. Over the years many people and organizations have adapted and modified this technique, but here it is in its original 3-step format:

  1. Compliment the recipient with the elements of their behaviour or action that worked well;
  2. Deliver the feedback stated in a positive way;
  3. End the feedback with an overall positive statement.

Woodsmall also found that it was essential for the feedback to be delivered within 5 minutes of the behaviour or action. Any later than that and the effectiveness of the feedback is dramatically reduced. This is because feedback is far more effective when it is directed at the unconscious mind, and the link between the behaviour and the unconscious mind is only active for about 5 minutes. After that time elapses the unconscious mind disassociates itself from the behaviour.

Here is How it Works

The following steps are great for using in virtually any situation from education and trainings, to coaching athletes, to managing people in a work environment and even with children.

Tell the recipient what they did well. Be specific, and identify positively the things they did well. It’s often a good idea to start the sentence with: “What you did well was… A, B, C etc”. The unconscious mind loves to be hear compliments and starting this way really opens the person up to absorbing what is being delivered.

Tell the recipient what they can do differently next time to make it even better. This is the feedback part. Start the feedback with something like “What you can do differently next time to make it even better…” Limit it as much as possible to the point or points that will have the most impact for them.

The key here is to state the feedback in a positive way. Rather than saying “Don’t speak so loud” say “Speak softer”. Rather than saying “You shouldn’t be so clumsy” say “You should be more stable”. By stating things like this in a positive way you focus their attention on what specifically they should do to improve rather than focusing their mind on what to avoid. For example, if you tell someone “Don’t slip!” you increase their chance of slipping because this is what their mind is focused on once you have said it. Rather, tell them to “Walk steady” or “Be careful” and then you focus their mind on the best course of action for the specific situation.

Finally, give them an overall positive statement. This makes them feel good about themselves and makes it easier for them to digest the feedback over all. Say something like “Overall you did a great job” or “You are really getting good at this!” etc.

One suggestion that can prove to be highly effective. It can sometimes be beneficial to put something that you had intended to give as feedback as part of the points that the person did well. By telling someone they did something well that they didn’t actually do or didn’t do particularly well, you confuse them into believing they did a good job, and they could actually do it even better the next time. This can, for example, be highly effective when you have given feedback about something a number of times and you want to try another approach to encourage them.

Using the correct format to deliver feedback can have astounding results. After all, who wants to give feedback just to hear ourselves speak?