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    Does the ‘compliment sandwich’ give better feedback?



    Giving honest feedback

    One area where many physicians get poor grades is in giving honest and direct feedback to members of their teams. Many physicians have told me they find this hard to do because criticism can make people angry, defensive, upset, tearful, or likely to leave.

    In many instances, the experience for the physician leader is bad enough that he/she simply doesn’t do it. So an employee who is not performing up to standards does not get that message and does not get the chance to improve. Not wanting to upset the people we lead, we instead let them down by abdicating an important duty.

    One approach that is sometimes recommended to give honest feedback is to deliver it between two positive comments. This is known as the “compliment sandwich.” While some advocates of this approach still assert its value, it is largely out of favor and is often ridiculed.1-3

    Employees, not being dumb, see the approach for what it is—the boss hides the “real” reason for the meeting between two superfluous comments. Or the serious issue gets lost. Or the employee registers the criticism but isn’t sure what to do to correct things.


    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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