Spare Me the Compliment Sandwich, Please!

Last Updated May 15, 2009 2:38 PM EDT

If you're a manager, chances are at some point in your professional life you've been told to couch criticisms in a compliment sandwich. You know, say one nice thing, state your critique, and end with another nice thing. For example:

"Gosh, John, you did a nice job getting those reports formatted yesterday. But I'd really like you to get them in earlier in the day. Your attitude is great, though, so keep up the good work!"

The idea is to soften the blow of the critique by squooshing it between two positive statements -- hence the sandwich, where the complaint is the meat of the sandwich and the nice things are spongy white bread.

I say, keep your stinkin' sandwich.

Apologies to my psychologist friends, who swear by the approach, but in my experience, people aren't more receptive to criticism when it's surrounded by praise.

Worse, I think it makes your compliments sound insincere. It's like trying to sneak in an attack, and the compliments are just thrown out there to screen the advancing enemy. They're just scrubby bushes hiding the rifle.

If you've got a complaint about my work, just say it. I'm not suggesting you go all Simon Cowell on me; there are plenty of ways of politely discussing a problem that don't involve insults and eye-rolling. But don't waste my time with half-hearted niceties designed to disguise your true concern.

I'm a big kid: Tell me what you want and how you want me to do it, and let's move on.

What's your take on the compliment sandwich? Let me know in the comments section.

(image by avlxyz via Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.