We all end up needing to have a conversation that can become uncomfortable. We may have to share with someone our unmet expectations, disappointment, or actual annoyance. This could be with a direct report, our boss, a peer, a spouse, or maybe even a child. No one likes these situations, but we must deal with them appropriately in order to address the issue at hand.
The “Sandwich Approach” concept isn’t new, but it might be new to you. It’s best used when you want to express your opinion, and deliver bad, or ‘less than stellar’ news. It’s simple and based in psychology: It starts with a positive, then the ‘icky part/negative’ goes in the middle, followed by another positive point. This technique can be a great way to express yourself without upsetting the other person as much. There are actually good and bad times to use this technique. It could backfire, for example, when giving feedback, particularly with direct reports. This article from Harvard Business Review explains how NOT to use the sandwich approach.
When used at the right time, it can be wonderful. Consider you need to express your feelings about a recent work re-org. You can start by saying how much you respect the company and the people you work with (positive part of the sandwich). Next you need to share the negative, or not-so-great part of your job: the area that is upsetting or not going well (the negative, or main part of the sandwich). Lastly, end on a positive note. This helps deliver ‘less than glowing’ news by sandwiching it with very positive comments. Be authentic – and plan ahead what you need to say so it comes out as you wish. This prevents the receiver from becoming defensive.
If you are someone who shuns from speaking up and sharing your honest feelings – this approach might be a useful one for you. This is not to say that every situation benefits from this approach. Sometimes a very direct comment is the best way to communicate – but when it is not – this approach can offer an effective way to share what is on your mind.