It was back at the university that I first came across this technique for improving the way you criticise.
Whenever we had done an exercise in writing, editing or something like that we used this method.
After some Googling I’ve discovered that in English it’s called the Sandwich-technique. It’s divided into three steps.
But before you use it to criticise it might be useful to stop and think for a few minutes. Ask yourself:
- Is this something worth bringing up?
- Is there really a problem?
- If there is, then is it really that big of a problem or just something I have magnified in my mind?
- Maybe I’m just feeling angry/down/sour and want to get express those feelings by lashing out?
Think about those questions. Often when you slow down and think about if for a few minutes you discover that there may not really be a need to criticize.
The Sandwich Technique
1. You start by listing the positive things about the essay, project etc.
2. Then move on to giving the negative criticism. Remember to make it constructive criticism and that you keep the critique directed as much as possible towards the task rather than the person. Unconstructive criticism and personal attacks are pointless and a waste of everyone’s time. So here you list the negative aspects of the paper, speech etc. and what specific things you think could be done to improve these weak points. Be clear about it or people might leave not knowing what to improve. Rather than seeing this section as a place to where you can pour out the negativity see it as a section where you recommend and in specific way explain what could be improved and provide suggestions on how to go about doing that.
3. End on a positive and encouraging note. Highlight what’s good about the speech or project and positive points about the people who made it. Be honest though, just praise what you liked. A sandwich of made of Insincerity+Negative criticism+Insincerity is worse than just giving your negative criticism straight up and people can smell it from miles away.
This technique is not only useful when you are doing some heavy and deep criticism for hours on end. You can use it in your day to day life too to convey a small complaint or something you think could be improved.
For instance if your complaint is for your boss/teacher, just start with bringing up how well work has gone so far. Or how things have improved. Or how things are running more smoothly and pleasantly than before.
Then give your complaint/recommendation. Your boss/teacher is already listening after you gave her/him the positive criticism. Keep it brief and get to the point. Otherwise s/he might stop listening. It’s also good to try and avoid using negative words such as problem as this can send the other person in a defensive mode.
End with encouragement, with how solving this could improve the workplace, increase efficiency and productivity, raise the level of happiness in the workplace even more. If you can, giving a reason to fix this that improves the situation of your boss/teacher is always a powerful motivator for him/her to get the issue handled.
Why should you use this technique?
It’s effective because it doesn’t put the criticised in too much of a defensive or awkward position. S/he’ll often be more receptive to your criticism if you start on a positive note than if you just blurt out your negative thoughts.
It ends on a positive and constructive note. This does less damage to the relationships between the one criticising and the critiqued. Ending a meeting just when you’ve delivered negative criticism is not a great or kind idea. We all know how bad and discouraged we can feel after receiving criticism. The future of that relationship could get damaged.
It’s fun to give honest positive praise and encouragement to people. And we probably need more of it. Much of the world seems to too easily get stuck in a rut of complaining, nagging and criticising and forget the positive things about people and their work. DonÂ´t limit praise and encouragement to situations where you need to say something negative though.