The compliment sandwich doesn’t work, but the “complaint sandwich” does — this is why
We're too afraid to voice our complaints, and for good reason — it often doesn't go well.
As a means of giving constructive feedback, the compliment sandwich has come under fire.
The idea is to start with a compliment about something someone does well, then deliver the negative feedback, and end on another compliment, so as not to offend the person on the receiving end. More often than not, what ends up happening is that feedback gets sugarcoated and lost in unrelated compliments, rather than delivered with compassionate directness, ultimately making it unclear and unproductive.
Instead of using such a convoluted method to get someone to change a habit, try what Guy Winch, Ph.D., a psychologist and author, calls a complaint sandwich. Winch coined the concept in his book The Squeaky Wheel and explained it at The Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. At the festival, Winch explained that "we are afraid to voice complaints, and for good reason: It often doesn't go well" — yet that doesn't mean we can't reshape our tactics and feel good when giving and receiving feedback.
The two sandwiches are similar, but with one key difference: In the latter, your first positive statement should be a compliment very closely related to the situation at hand, and the second positive statement should be a call to action that describes the positive benefit of improving the behavior. For example, if you're addressing a co-worker who constantly misses deadlines, you might highlight how much you appreciate their diligence or attention to detail even when working under time constraints. And your complaint itself — or the "meat of the sandwich" — should be lean, or "in other words, all you need is the one incident to make your point," Winch says. Listing every instance your co-worker made a mistake will only alienate them more, so it's best to stick to the most recent incident.
So it might sound a little like this: "I really appreciate your attention to detail, even when we are working on a strict deadline. You were a day behind on this last project, though. It would be really beneficial to our whole team if you could prioritize our most pressing deadlines and get those projects in on time."
Here are four reasons why this encouraging and empathetic method is the one you should use:
It's the epitome of compassionate directness
Unlike the compliment sandwich, the complaint sandwich uses positive rhetoric in a relevant, straightforward way. Instead of beating around the bush and offering unrelated or over-the-top compliments, the positive statement (or first slice of "bread") applies to the situation and serves as a transition into the conversation rather than a distraction. This is a perfect example of compassionate directness because it allows you to deliver feedback in real time in a way that is sensitive to your listener's feelings.
It focuses on the present rather than the past
Sometimes, we get caught up in past grievances when giving feedback. This practice is largely ineffective and can make your listener resentful or even ashamed. The complaint sandwich is a forward-looking formula that will ensure neither you nor the recipient are left ruminating on past events that can't be changed.
It's specific in its approach
It's all too easy to be vague when giving feedback, simply because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings. The truth is, though, that honing in on details will help you deliver actionable advice that ultimately encourages a growth mindset. If your listener knows exactly where they went wrong, they can turn the mistake into a learning experience.
It motivates your listener to take action
The complaint sandwich makes it clear that something needs to be changed. Rather than leaving your colleague unsure of the next steps they should take — because they are caught up in a confusing mix of positive and negative feedback — they have a better idea of how they should course correct. And to take your complaint sandwich to the next level, you can work with them to devise a new goal and strategies that could help them achieve it.
- Constant complaining is harmful to your health - Big Think ›
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University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.