The Feedback Sandwich (That Doesn’t Cause Emotional Indigestion)

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 6.37.18 PM.png

Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” -Mahatma Ghandi

We feel as powerful as our ability to speak our truth. I am saying this as someone who used to think that saying “No” was a sure way to reserve a front-row seat in hell.

I was 33 and I couldn’t stop a guy from kissing me at a hot dog stand at 3 am in the morning with a piece of hot dog in my mouth. Not only it was gross but I almost choked to death. That was the moment I knew that I had to learn how to set boundaries, speak my truth and learn to say no in a way that felt good to me. My other choice was to learn how to shoot laser beams out of my eyes.  Well, we know how much work it would have been to go that route!

Seven years later, and after many imperfect practice attempts, I have no problem saying no or speaking what is true for me. To save all of you seven years of practice, I’d like to share a simple yet incredibly effective way to give feedback and say no to anyone without causing them to lose face or without choking on a piece of hot dog.

Though I cannot point you to a source, I really love a saying I heard years ago: “ ‘And’ connects, ‘but’ divides.” The feedback sandwich is composed of two ‘and’s and no ‘but’s. It’s simple, beautiful and super effective!

Here is a scenario:

Imagine that you purchased a used car in good condition and you are happy with the price you paid for it. You love your car! Your uncle and aunt come over to visit from out of state in a few weeks. They see your new car and ask you how much you paid for it. Your uncle decides to look up the car and tells you that you could have paid $500 less for it. You feel hurt and violated. You regret telling them the price you paid and spend the rest of the night biting your tongue and saying semi-fake niceties to your uncle to overcompensate for your resentment of him going over your decision when you haven’t asked for it.

The next morning, everything is forgotten and everyone’s off to a new subject. Yet, you still feel off. You feel that your uncle has undermined your decision-making power and given you negative feedback when you had already purchased the car and it was too late. You love your uncle but you can’t shake off that icky feeling. What do you do? Well, you take a bite of the feedback sandwich!

The formula is simple:

Positive statement (appreciation)+AND+negative statement (your grief)+AND+positive statement (appreciation).

Here is what you can say to your uncle using this framework:

“Uncle John, I really appreciate that you are such a conscious consumer and your research skills are superb. AND I felt a little violated and undermined when you told me that I had paid $500 too much when I had already purchased the car. AND I am grateful for your care for me to get the most for my buck. I felt that I need to say this to you before you and Aunt Marie went back to Florida.”

Notice that all pieces of a sandwich matter, not just the meat! It is the same when we are giving feedback. I confess that I can’t do this 100% of the time, especially when I am really hurt. But when I can, I feel like a million bucks! I feel like an adult in charge of her life, who respects herself and knows how to communicate her needs, boundaries and grievances with ease. I feel powerful. All because of learning how to sandwich the truth between two pieces of goodness!

It does take practice but it doesn’t take forever to get it right. I recommend practicing with little hurts that don’t have too much of an emotional pull on you.  And if you freak out and say the worst thing that comes to your mind, forgive yourself and practice apologizing instead! We are never out of opportunities to grow.

What are some other ways you have learned to successfully give feedback, set your boundaries and speak your truth?