The art of giving feedback

How to communicate to people the nature of mistakes in their actions effectively so that they find motivation to work on themselves? Feedback is the opinion you give to the other person about what they might want to improve in their behavior or in a particular task.

It is often the case, however, that when we want to tell someone what that person should improve in their behavior, we do not fully achieve the effect we hope for, i.e. usually the person is even more bummed out and does not even feel like making use of our advice.

So, how to give such feedback that the receiving person can at the same time feel good about it and get enough motivation to improve their work?

Imagine a situation in which your friend is to perform a speech in front of a live audience and give a presentation about, let’s say, emotions in advertising. He stands in front of a group and starts speaking. You watch his performance and write down the things you notice that he’s doing wrong. His speech is not very good: he’s holding hands in his pockets, not making eye contact with the audience and speaking too fast. When he’s done with the presentation, he comes straight to you and asks: "How was it?" You want him to do better next time, so you tell him what he did wrong: "You spoke a bit too quickly, you used the wrong gestures, and your eyes were fixed on the walls, instead of the audience."

What is the effect of such feedback? By giving such comments on your friend’s actions, you only point to his mistakes and give him negative emotional content. Because of the negative emotions he’s getting from you, your friend feels bummed out and isn’t likely to listen to your advice and work on any of these elements. You, on the other hand, are surprised with his reaction - after all, you are his friend and you care about him.

So, how to give feedback? First of all, you need to be aware that if you want someone to learn something, that person must be in a positive emotional state. Motivation is a positive emotion. If you are only going to point out mistakes and pass on negative emotions, in most cases you will not encourage anyone to anything. People are not able to learn when they don’t feel well. The key here is to associate feedback on what should be done differently with positive emotions.

The Feedback Sandwich

The feedback sandwich is a positive feedback model that will allow you to give people motivation instead of negative feelings. This model consists of three stages:

  1. Positive emotion
  2. What needs improvement?
  3. Positive emotion


  1. Positive emotion. You begin your feedback with showing the receiving person that they have done well. You can say: "way to go!"; "well done, you came off great!"; "that was a brilliant speech". If the person's performance was blatantly bad, then obviously you would not say "you nailed it!", because they would simply think that you’re making fun of them. In this case, you can simply say "good job".

After a few words of praise, you name two or three things that the person did well. Make sure to give specific examples! You might say: "you knew very well the subject you were talking about" or "you spoke clearly, that’s great". Appreciate their effort. The whole point is to make this person feel good at the outset. The state of joy and relaxation comes in, which encourage learning and motivation.

  1. What needs improvement? In the second stage, you name the things that the person did wrong, but be sure to use a positive tone! You do not focus on what they did poorly, but what could be done better. Don’t say "you spoke too fast", but rather "you might want to speak a bit slower, people would understand you better then". You wouldn’t say "you acted like a jerk", but rather "you could try being a little more polite". And so on. In addition, you might right away show this person the solution to the problem.

For example, if your friend is having trouble meeting new people and has just had a conversation with someone, you can say right out to him: "Listen, man, what you need to get along with people is a smile from time to time; be open, look them in the eyes and listen carefully to what they have to say." The very pointing out to what the other person should improve might not be enough. If you have the proper knowledge, it is worthwhile to tell them on the spot what exactly they could do to solve the problem, so that the next time they can avoid such errors.

  1. Positive emotions. You wrap up the conversation calling forth joy and relaxation again. You might say, "Well, as I said before, all in all, you came off great." So, again, you finish off with a praise.

So, how would the feedback look like in the situation mentioned before, in which your friend has just given a presentation to a group of people? Using the feedback sandwich, you could say: "Well, that was a pretty cool presentation, I liked how you told this joke, everyone enjoyed it, too, and I see that you are very knowledgeable. One of the things you improve is the speaking rate. Before you start speaking, take a few deep breaths, that will surely make your speech tempo slower. Don’t forget to look people in the eyes, so they can feel that you’re talking to them. Also, you might want to work on your gesticulation. I’ve just read a great book on body language. I’ll drop it off to you tomorrow. On the whole, quite a good performance. Congratulations! "

How, in your opinion, will be this message received by your friend? What kind of attitude will he have hearing your words? Will he be bummed out or maybe he’ll say, "Wow, great, I'm starting to work on this from now on! Thanks!" A different way of communicating errors brings completely different effects. So what if you don’t tell someone the whole truth? Instead, you give them a wonderful gift of motivation and an opportunity for improvement.

What does the feedback sandwich have to offer?

First of all, you direct - by expressing your opinions - the receiving person’s focus on solutions, instead of errors and problems. Moreover, you give it plenty of motivation and incentive to apply these solutions right away. By offering them advice what they can do better, you give them tools that will help them find out what exactly they should do. As a result, instead of falling in the pit and apathy, this person will show a wild desire to improve, develop and become better.

In what context can it be used?

You can use it in every area of your life connected with relations with others. If you are a student, you can motivate and teach your friends, who have trouble with passing exams. You can advise people who are about to give a performance in front of a larger group of people for the first time. If you are a parent, you can use it in conversation with your children. I think that with children it can bring particularly positive educational effects. As a teacher, you can use the feedback sandwich to give incentives to your students. If you run a company, you can give advice to your employees on what they should improve. As a son, daughter, brother, sister, boyfriend or girlfriend, you can use this positive feedback mechanism to help out your loved ones. Now, ask yourself in which situations and relationships you could apply this model and make a decision to do so.

Of course, this isn’t easy, because giving feedback can be sometimes taken for criticism. If you struggle with fear and wonder "what the other person might think," perhaps you should work on assertiveness.

In the meantime, try out the sandwich feedback and let me know in the comments how it worked!

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