Wednesday, August 20, 2008


An Amazing Mind is always a good read and this week it has an interesting article about giving feedback. The advice being offered is that people learn best when feedback is purely positive and focusses on:
  • what the person got right (two thirds of the feedback)
  • points for improvement (phrased positively)
In a similar way, during my counselling course we were encouraged to give each other a "feedback sandwich" consisting of praise/suggestion/praise.

I was thinking about critiquing people's writing and how whatever you focus on is what you tend to do more of. It's really important to tell each other what we get right and not just to make helpful suggestions. But I think you all know that already.


writtenwyrdd said...

reminds me of the "verbal judo" I was taught in an it-shall-remain-nameless law enforcement academy years ago. The gist is that you offer up some recognition of the person's feelings about the situation (I understand you're in a hurry...), adding in a bit of respectful statment that you're going to do your job (...but you were going 20 miles over the speed limit in a school zone and I'm going to write you a ticket...) followed by some appreciative nonsense such as "Thank you for your cooperation" a la RoboCop.

Honestly, if you sympathise even in the most limited way (and even if it's patently fake) people respond much more pleasantly and will often thank you for the ticket they receive! I've seen it. Because people respond so much more positively to someone who treats their feelings as valid and treats them with respect.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS, I haven't been in the ticket writing biz in decades. Just so you know.

PJD said...

Yes, the feedback oreo is very valuable. Positive, constructive, positive. I also find it a terrific way to help myself. Often while critiquing I focus so much on "improvements" that I don't look closely enough. When I'm forced to pick out things that I like in the piece, it often opens up whole new avenues for constructive feedback. Along the lines of, "I really love the parallelism you've drawn between these two scenes, and I think it's something you can build on to make the whole story richer." That kind of thing. If I don't focus on finding the positive, it's harder for me to be constructive in the criticism department.

fairyhedgehog said...

WW - I'm amazed that people respond even to patently fake sympathy. It makes me wonder how good my counselling skills really were, if fake would have been good enough.

Oh, and I forgive you for giving out tickets.

PJD - sometimes we can be our own worst critics and it's not really helpful.

Mind you, I'm like the Red Queen about my writing. I usually think that anything I've written is brilliant and that it's crappy, both at once.

Robin S. said...

I agree on the positive focus. I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I beat myself up enough about my writing - criticism that isn't couched in something positive sounds to my ear like the failing whispers in my own mind sometimes.

Stacy said...

I agree on the positive focus. I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I beat myself up enough about my writing - criticism that isn't couched in something positive sounds to my ear like the failing whispers in my own mind sometimes.

I agree. Sometimes I get so caught up in the criticism I forget the positive stuff altogether. *shakes head*

Anonymous said...

I have to criticize student papers and I do my best to be kind and helpful. Most students could take whatever I said as long as they could believe I really wanted them to do better--and that they had it in them to do better.

Sharing my own screw ups helps.

Sophie in the Moonlight said...

I offered the Sandwich technique to a friend a few weeks ago. And I'm going out on a limb here and including the bit I wrote in case you get any hits from search engines looking for the Sandwich. Please feel free to delete if you want.
(the person I was writing to had a problem with her husband's best friend (Fred) who was being a misogynistic a-hole while staying with her & husband while he finalized his divorce from "Betty".)

"If you are also friends with him, then you can try this technique I learned from my old shrink, Dr. Mean Old Lady, for dealing with conflicts in which I was both desirous of change and wanted to maintain a relationship with the person. It's called the Sandwich Technique. Example:
1. Slice of bread: "Fred, I really admire the deep friendship you and Mark have and I am so glad that I can also call you my friend."
2. Hearty slice of protein: "I understand the divorce is challenging and you are feeling bitter towards Betty, but I have to ask you to refrain from discussing women in the same derogatory and disrespectful manner as last evening. I was quite offended and appalled particularly by your justification of the rape and murder of Natalee Holloway because she had the misfortune to have caught the eye of a violent pervert. I know stress can make people say things that are not typical of their character, and I cannot believe that in your heart of hearts you feel such objectifying contempt of all women. That is just not the Fred I know"
3. Lettuce: "However, if this is a stage in your life in which you are unable to speak of women in the most gentlemanly terms possible, then I cannot have you stay in my home and continue to make me feel uncomfortable, and quite frankly, angry with your discourse"
4. Tomatoes: "If you can find your center, recognize that your animosity towards Betty needs to be confined to that relationship and not paint all women with the same broad strokes of contempt and animosity, and come back to yourself - the friend I know and love, then you can stay with us as long as you need to and can continue to feel that our home is your home."
5. Slice of bread: "I love you, Fred. You're a good guy at heart and I truly enjoy our friendship and all of the wonderful things that make you you."

Dr. Mean Old Lady put it this way:
slice of bread= positive praise/ love
protein = statement of problem, request for change
lettuce= negative consequence if behavior is not changed
tomatoes= positive consequence if behavior is changed
slice of bread=reinforcement of positive praise/love

Aren't I a know-it-all? But, I found it so interesting that we were writing about this technique at the same time, so I considered it cosmic synergy that you must have wanted my two cents. ;)


fairyhedgehog said...

Wow, that's a much more detailed sandwich than I've seen before. Thanks for sharing it.

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