Questions For The Resilient – Giving criticism as feedback

Last week we asked: can criticism = feedback? We addressed the hard topic of taking criticism personally and how to transform any kind of criticism into well-received feedback. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend you do so before reading on. 

Today we’re asking: what if the role is reversed? You’re the boss, trying as tactfully as possible to explain to your employee what they had not delivered on, all the while noticing their increasingly tense body language and sagging lip line as the conversation goes on.
Delivering criticism has a hairline difference between being well delivered and poorly delivered. There are also so many diverse characters out there. People prefer receiving feedback in different ways. How can we win with it?

giving criticism as feedback

The feedback sandwich

There’s a fantastic method called the Feedback Sandwich. Nope, this is not a recipe for a lunchtime meal my friend. This is a feedback tactic that is incredibly useful.

First things first – if you read our blog on receiving criticism you’d know that the golden rule of this whole thing is to change our view from that of it being criticism, to being feedback. This is VITAL. Feedback is something that has a positive intention. Something open for discussion and to be received, instead of something given to somebody else.
Here’s the step to a well made feedback sandwich: 

Layer 1: Positive Feedback.

Start off your feedback session by naming some positive attributes and strengths this person shows that is valued. Try to keep these pointers revolving around the strengths specifically to do with the situation/project/task at hand that needs the feedback. This ensures that the person involved feels valued and that hard work and achievements are recognised and praised, not overlooked.
Something that’s very important to remember here is to keep it sincere, real and authentic. Fake compliments mean nothing and show no true intention to collaborate with another. 

Layer 2: Needs Improvement Feedback.

After confirming and discussing the positive achievements that were made, it’s going to be really easy to move on to the next step of providing the “needs improvement” feedback. Here, wording is vital. If we suddenly move straight into harsh or abrupt words, the sandwich is not longer edible. We need to keep words open, not aimed personally, and in a way that feels possible to overcome. Such as:

“I have noticed that we could benefit from…”
“It would make the biggest difference if…”
“I’d really appreciate more focus directed to…”
“I’d really appreciate your help with…”
“An area that shows great potential for strengthening is…”

Can you see how none of these sentences are insulting? The key is making sure they’re not aimed at criticising somebody as a person. But rather, at evaluating the areas that need improvement, that we believe can achieve improvement. Once again, sincerity and authenticity is absolutely vital here. 

Layer 3: Final Positive Feedback.

Here, one can finalise the meeting by confirming your overall feeling towards the outcome of the topic at hand, and confirming strengths, skills and values of this person that is appreciated in the workplace on a day to day level. We are reaffirming the reasons we have hired this person and believe that they are valuable to the workplace , which reaffirms their sense of security and capability and contribution to the work environment. 

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Every single step of this technique needs to be based on authentic, sincere feelings. Take some time before the scheduled meeting to list each of these points of feedback and think honestly about the areas of improvement and strengths that will be under discussion. Make sure it’s relevant – For example, telling Susie how delicious you find her baking won’t mean anything to her when it’s followed by feedback on her bad sales numbers.


As somebody with authority, we need to develop a thick skin towards receiving criticism ourselves. We must make sure that we always encourage people to feel open and comfortable with providing us with the same kind of feedback we give. Working from an adult-to-adult basis is the key – I’m an adult, you’re an adult, we both have the desire to be heard and appreciated and understood.

And now my fellow resilience warriors, lets go make some sandwiches.

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