Make constructive criticism easier to swallow.
BY ROBERTO TOLEDO, MBA, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Communication allows us to exchange ideas, solve problems and reach our intended goals. Yet one kind of interaction makes us all sweat, even though it’s a necessity in project management: provid- ing feedback to team members. “Feedback” is information delivered in response to
a person’s behavior or performance. Negative feedback is usually aimed
at correcting an undesired behavior or poor performance, while positive
feedback is primarily used as a motivation technique.
If providing feedback makes you cringe, fear not: There’s a new com-
munication tool on the project manager’s menu that could replace a
somewhat “stale” method.
EXPIRED FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Popular in management training in the 1990s, a model called the “feedback
sandwich” suggested that any criticism should include three components.
n Base bread: an opening remark telling the receiver what was done correctly
n Filling: a comment on the behavior or actions that need improvement
n Top bread: a restatement of the team member’s good work and your
confidence in the person’s future performance
This model is now regarded as nothing more than a pill sweetener,
according to a recent University of Chicago study. For experienced profes-
sionals, receiving a clear description of failings and ways to improve is more
appreciated than a double dose of cheer, the study shows.
THE NEXT COURSE
I regularly use the “F3 Burger,” a newer model named for the communication tool’s three middle layers, all beginning with the letter “F.”
Like the feedback sandwich, it’s based on layering information in a way
that’s effective and easy to digest. It captures both positive and negative feedback, and can help project managers navigate difficult conversations with team members.
n Base bun: Look for the right moment and place to address the person.
Never give feedback in a hurry or in the middle of a heated discussion.
Choose a private setting, such as a closed office.
n Facts (meat): Do not start by sharing your
opinions or what you overheard. Instead, pro-
vide data. For example, describe exactly how
many times a person failed to meet a deliver-
able deadline and by how many days. Don’t
spare the details.
n Feelings (cheese): Use plain and simple
language to express your feelings about the
mistake. Take ownership of how you feel and
state your emotions, whether that’s anger or
frustration. Sharing emotions can make you
feel vulnerable, but it leaves a clearer, longer-
lasting impression on the receiver.
n Future performance (vegetables): Express
what you want the other person to do to cor-
rect the behavior or performance. Provide a
step-by-step action plan. This should include
weekly check-ins until you feel that the wrong
course has been corrected.
n Top bun: Highlight the collective benefits of
the proposed change, which are often easy to
spot: The project manager will have a better-
performing team member, who proves to the
organization he or she is willing to improve. PM