Difficult Conversations: Why you should ditch the praise sandwich...

Why you should ditch the praise sandwich – And what you should do instead…

by Karen Amos

Every time I run a Managing Difficult Conversations training course, I have at least one delegate who advocates using the ‘Praise Sandwich’ as a structure for their conversation or feedback.  I can understand why and I’ll come onto that in a moment, but first a quick explanation of what this is for those who have never heard of it.

The praise sandwich is an approach to giving feedback that starts with something positive, then adds the negative feedback, followed up by something positive to close.  There is another school of thought that calls this a **** sandwich, for obvious reasons, but let's stick with the 'praise' version to save our sensibilities!

So let's look at why we use it - then we can look at why we shouldn't in a moment.

There are several reasons why the praise sandwich seems attractive to the feedback-giver.  One of the main ones though, is that that we erroneously see this as ‘kind’.  I mean, think about it – of course it’s kind.  We’re saving the person’s feelings by telling them all the great stuff they do and leaving them on a high – fully motivated to go back to work.  And we can breath a sigh of relief and tell ourselves, 'That went well...'.

Except…

OK, rather an extreme example, but the effect is the same – the message will be either lost, or misinterpreted.  You’ll come across as either dishonest and manipulative, or you won’t get the change you wanted in the first place.

Years ago I had a manager who used this approach all the time.  I had no idea whether I was doing a great job, or whether I was on the verge of being sacked!

So what should we do instead?

Surely, if we don’t fluff up the message at the end with something positive, we’ve a demotivated, or even irate member of staff on our hands?

Actually, I don’t believe that needs to be the case.  We just need to say what we need to say - but the key is to say it well.

I like to call this the 4 C's:

  1. Courage - Having the backbone to deal with situations instead of burying our head in the sand and hoping it will go away
  2. Clarity - Saying what you have to say, getting to the point and not fluffing up the message
  3. Compassion - In our haste to deliver the message, it's sometimes easy to forget there's another person on the other end of this conversation, so let's treat people as we would like to be treated ourselves
  4. Collaboration - Working 'with' rather than doing 'to'.  This coaching approach is a sure fire way to build commitment and achieve positive outcomes

So hopefully you can see that by using a coaching approach to give feedback and have those ‘difficult conversations’ we build commitment, accountability and personal responsibility.  It’s supportive, but definitely not 'fluffy bunny'.

So here’s a quick coaching question to finish off…

  • What are you most worried about when having a ‘difficult conversation’ with your team and what effect does this have on your approach?

If you’re interested in learning tips, tools and how to take a coaching approach for better ‘difficult conversations’, check out our latest live, interactive online training workshops.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and remember, you can contact us any time for an informal chat, even if it’s just for a listening ear!

Tel: 07714 855757 or email: karen@bright-bird.co.uk

Karen Amos is an executive coach and Director and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners, managers and education leaders to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.