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You’ve certainly been on both sides of a compliment sandwich—it’s the overrated idea that to give better feedback, you should sandwich the core criticism with positivity before and after. Finding praise to give is easy enough (even if you need to embellish the truth here and there). What about when you’re struggling with the meat of the sandwich—the areas that need improvement?

Especially when you’re dealing with someone who made mistake at work, you want your feedback to be detailed enough that the recipient has concrete ways to move forward. Use the following points to add specificity to your feedback so that your coworker or employee can actually learn, grow, and improve.

Avoid the heat of the moment

When a coworker or employee screws up, it’s natural to feel frustrated or angry. However, your reaction will be more productive if you give yourself some time to thoughtfully address what went wrong. Otherwise, the focus of the conversation will be fueled by frustration, rather than on identifying solutions for the future.

Make sure you give yourself some time and space to gain perspective, and then deliver your feedback with a clearer head. Don’t wait too long, though—no one needs the additional stress of putting off an awkward conversation.

Use specifics to make your feedback more effective

Effective feedback needs to be detailed enough for the recipient to move forward and improve. “Don’t do ____ anymore,” is hardly an action item. Here’s a mental checklist you can use to add specificity to your feedback. Plus, hitting all these points will keep your criticism as objective as possible, which will help everyone involved avoid feeling awkward or ashamed.

Scale. Convey to your colleague the gravity of the issue. Make it clear whether this is a minor point or a major deal. This will help dictate the seriousness of the entire conversation.

Frequency. Is this a one-off offense or a repeated behavior? Tell your colleague what you’ve observed and ask them about their take on their behavior.

Impact. Who does this mistake affect at work? How so? Spell it out for your colleague.

Intention. Get to the bottom of the person’s thinking. Perhaps what you perceive as a mistake is their version of a new way to do things at work. Ask them about their decision-making process and about what they thought they were trying to achieve.

With all these details, stick to the facts rather than letting your emotional perspective guide your talking points.

Offer help—and solutions

As with the compliment sandwich, one of the most important components of effective feedback is to couch it in some sort of positivity. Most likely that positivity takes the form of a forward-thinking solution.

Again, specificity is your friend. A “solution” like Manage your time better is vague and difficult to follow through on. More helpful would be to offer up ideas like, Have you considered downloading a project management app? or Do you need help figuring out how to delegate some of your tasks? Even if these aren’t the solutions you land on, these kinds of questions will open the conversation up as you work together to find an idea that works. Make yourself available for follow up questions, or check in with your colleague proactively in the future.

Rather than harping on what went wrong, try to wrap up your feedback session with concrete ideas for growth. The compliment sandwich might be overrated, but a little positivity is key to making your feedback stick.



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