What’s the best way to balance positive and constructive feedback?

This is a question many managers grapple with. Some people prefer to balance constructive feedback by giving it in between two pieces of positive feedback, commonly called the “feedback sandwich”. Others argue that this actually undermines the purpose of giving feedback, either by diluting the positive or constructive aspects of the information you’re providing. Some people instead prefer to give constructive feedback directly, or choose a combination of giving one before the other.


There is no ideal ratio of positive to negative feedback, this is completely dependent on your own leadership style, the culture in your company and who you’re giving feedback to. There are, however, a few guidelines which should be followed no matter which approach you chose:


1. Ask for their thoughts


Start off by asking your employee how they feel things are going. More often than not your employee may already sense there’s a problem. Of course there are cases in which they won’t realize the impact, or extent of the impact, their behavior is having on the team or on an individual, but this is more rare than you might expect. Letting them speak first can open up the conversation and also allow you to view the situation from their perspective.


2. Don’t make things personal


However, sometimes your employees may not realize an error they’ve made, particularly when it comes to interactions with others. For example, if you have one employee that has great ideas, but tends to talk over or dominate meetings to get their point across, they may not realize that their actions block others from contributing.


Be cautious with the way you phrase your feedback. If you say "You would be more effective if...", it implies a personal trait. Instead it would be better to say, "Your contributions to the group would be even more effective if you also leave space for others to share their ideas and comments." An easy way to remember is to avoid using adjectives and instead stick to verbs.


3. Be specific


Instead of saying, “you’re a great communicator”, give them more information by mentioning specific actions or times in which they demonstrated this trait. For example, “I really like how you expressed your proposal in the last meeting and then opened up the floor for people to share their thoughts and discuss the best steps forward for the team.”


4. Drop “but”, “however” and “although”

Avoid using words like “but”, “however” and “although” to link your positive and constructive feedback. Saying, “I like the way you communicate with others but…” will signal to them that your positive feedback may not be sincere.


This article is part of a management guide about how to become a better leader with feedback. 

Next Guides:


Manager’s Handbook: How will giving more feedback help my team?


Receiving Feedback


Giving Feedback