We used to applaud people for their candid commentary. However, in the business world, harsh words alienate your colleagues and risk damaging your reputation. When it comes to giving feedback, there’s a right way and a wrong way to offer critique.

The wrong way is to be direct, to have a “sharp tongue,” and to lay your thoughts out there unfiltered. While this is often seen as “telling it like it is,” it also reflects an alarmingly high level of obtuse disregard for your colleagues.

The correct way is to start with identifying what has been done correctly. Starting with recognition primes the recipient and shows that you recognize their value. Then you can move on to your carefully worded criticism or “feedback.” After the critique is delivered, go back and offer another kind word or too. This is called the sandwiching method, where you ‘sandwich’ feedback with words of affirmation.

The Sandwich Method of Giving Professional Feedback

For example, a sandwich method of critique could look like:

Hi John,

I really appreciate the amount effort you put into the report for today’s meeting. Next time, could you offer Google analytics annotations in your presentation next time? This will allow us to see exactly why we’ve had peaks in traffic. I also wanted to thank you for all your hard work. I know these reports are really data driven and there’s a lot of information to juggle. Thanks! Please let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to have a chat about it too.

Here, you’ve coated John’s ego by prefacing a criticism with a compliment (the effort) and ending it with sympathetic understanding (we know there’s a lot to do). The criticism itself is that John lacks attention to detail in his reports. Perhaps you’ve had the same conversation with him before. Perhaps this is your third time asking for the same thing, which brings us to another point: getting it said in writing.

Written Feedback Gets Looked At Twice

Verbal feedback gets heard once, while a written feedback gets looked at twice. Getting something said in writing offers the opportunity to really craft our message, but it also has a higher impact on the recipient. Being offered verbal feedback versus being offered feedback in an email are two different things entirely. The former has to rely on one’s attention at the moment and their memory in order for it to be fully grasped, while the latter is documented and retrievable. The recipient is also more likely to focus on words in an email than what can be otherwise perceived as a request or passing comment with little weight.

Feedback Through Example

In other cases, it doesn’t really matter what you say or how you say it. What could matter more – or at least be more effective – is offering feedback through example. This is particularly helpful with people who don’t take kindly to being told what to do, even with the thickest of sandwiches. It also works remarkably well for people who are visual communicators. Showing someone how you might prefer something to be done also gives you the advantage of communicating in pictures without really having to consider message delivery.