Is it wise to use the feedback sandwich?

Catching up recently with friends, we were sharing our updates on life and what we’d been doing recently. Somehow the conversation became focused on the importance of giving feedback, how we’ve been given feedback ourselves and how we give feedback to others. There was one moment in this conversation that I really had to bite my tongue. The moment – when one of my friends uttered these words…

“I use the &#@* sandwich all the time to give feedback on performance”

I was horrified; but alas, that was just the start as they started to tell us on just how much they like it as a simple feedback tool to correct poor performance. We were given examples to demonstrate exactly how they’ve used it. I sat there listening and wanting to reach across the table to shake them by the shoulders. My internal voice was screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” By this stage, I couldn’t bite my tongue any longer and spoke up about other tools they might consider in future.

Most of us are familiar with this feedback model. You start with a positive, introduce some constructive or negative feedback and then close with specific feedback to build the individual’s trust and comfort.

Whilst the model aims to minimise any detrimental effect of the negative feedback, are individuals left motivated to make a change? Thing is….most of us have at some time or another experienced this model and we recognise it straight away. It is imprinted on our memory and many of us may start to hear circus music in our heads as someone applies the model in giving us feedback.

Now I must admit to you, the friends I was having this conversation with aren’t all learning and development professionals, so I can somewhat forgive any narrow experience or awareness of other feedback models. I can also be grateful for the conversation as it sparked a need to write this post to explore feedback and some of the models that can be applied. It was a topic that was at the front of my mind as I’d recently co-facilitated a session on feedback with a group of experienced trainers.

What is Feedback?

There are many definitions of the term feedback. Some definitions focus on task or work performance and others on learning and behaviour change.  I recently provided a group with two definitions (one complex and one simple) to prompt discussion on what the term means to them. In the end, the group felt that feedback is the term used to describe…

“Helpful information about actions or behaviours so an individual can adjust and improve current and future actions and behaviours in their effort to reach a desired goal or outcome.”

I’m only sharing one definition of feedback and it’s important I remind you that there are many more. If you’d like to explore other definitions, here’s three links that may be of interest:

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on what feedback is. If you’d like to share, comment below and help continue the conversation.


When Do We Give Feedback?

During my conversation with friends, they recounted when they have given feedback to colleagues or team members. It seemed mostly they were initiating the giving of feedback as a performance evaluation tool only, and not really thinking about how their colleagues or team members may seek feedback from them to assist their personal learning or how their feedback can be used to aid learning. This all reminded me of a question I posed to a group of experienced trainers the month before. The question I asked the group was “when do you give feedback?” and in asking, I wondered whether they’d recognise that feedback isn’t something that is done once. Most of the answers I received were related to giving feedback to a learner when they haven’t quite met the standard during assessment activities. Very few responses suggested they give structured feedback during learning and practice activities. Maybe they thought telling a learner “good job doing x” was a great way to give feedback and enough to help change behaviour or actions. 

I presented them with an illustration based on the following as a way of highlighting the opportunities we have to put learner needs first and give constructive, meaningful, helpful, motivating and timely feedback.


In a learning sense, we all must be conscious of the importance feedback can have on shaping individuals. It can assist greatly in correcting any dangerous behaviours when it comes to safety or high risk activities. Done well, it can be motivating for learners to then extend themselves further and engage with their learning.

Avoid giving feedback if either you or the recipient are in a state of emotional turmoil
– the outcome won’t be successful.

Feedback Models

There are many feedback models that can be used, here is just an introduction to a few as a way of introducing more than just the feedback sandwich. Included below are broad descriptions, with links to more descriptive information on the model.

If you have others you’ve used successfully, please share in the comments. 

Situation – Behaviour – Impact (SBI)

This model was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership and allows learners to reflect more on their actions, whilst understanding precisely what you are commenting on and why. It also allows them to think about what they need to change. Your comments are focused on specific situations and behaviours, then outlines the impact these behaviours have on others. It involves three steps:

  1. Describing the situation.
  2. Describing the observable behaviour.
  3. Describing what you thought or how you felt.

You can read more about this model on the Center for Creative Leadership website.

Pendleton’s Model

This model was developed in 1984 for providing feedback in a clinical education setting. It can be applied to group or individual feedback on performance observed first hand. It can help make a learning experience constructive as it:

  1. Highlights positive behaviours first.
  2. Reinforces these behaviours and includes a discussion of skills to achieve them.
  3. Follows with what they could have done differently.

Areas for improvement are identified by the learner first, then followed by a discussion with the person giving the feedback. The discussion identifies the strategies to improve learner performance. There are some rules to be aware of if using this model, and there’s also critique of the rigid and formulaic nature of the model. The rules are:

  1. Check the learner wants and is ready for feedback.
  2. Let the learner give comments/background to the material that is being assessed.
  3. Let the learner state what was done well.
  4. Observer(s) state what was done well.
  5. Let the learner state what could be improved.
  6. Observer(s) state how it could be improved.
  7. An action plan for improvement is made.

Staged Feedback

This model by Paul Jerome consists of four stages and is effective for positive feedback. Feedback given using this model is genuine as it is specific and allows the learner to feel as though their coach or mentor really took notice. The four stages are:

  1. Describe current behaviours.
  2. Identify situations.
  3. Describe impacts and consequences.
  4. Identify alternative behaviours.

You won’t find much information freely available on this model as it’s contained within Paul Jerome’s book Coaching Through Effective Feedback.


This model is quite simple in its structure and can be enhanced by providing learners with ways they could do things differently and the results these alternative actions may bring. STAR refers to:

  • Situation or Task.
  • Action.
  • Result.

When I’ve mentioned this model to groups before, they recognise it as a model they use in job interviews. An example of how this model is applied can be found here.

10 Common Mistakes in Giving Feedback

I came across this short video on YouTube when I was preparing for the session I co-facilitated. It’s by the Center for Creative Leadership, and is simple and draws attention to mistakes I’ve no doubt many of us have made.

10 Common Mistakes in Giving Feedback