Page Updated on February 6, 2023

Here’s another free activity that you can use if you are creating a teaching plan for teaching employees or your own workshops on how to give effective feedback.

This is a short 10-minute activity that you can very easily run to ensure that you include the participants in the interactions.

Starting the Activity

Activity: 10 minutes is the recommended timeframe to run this activity.

At first, only show the three questions on the left-hand side of the slide.

Giving constructive feedback at work

The questions are:

  • What type of feedback are you better at giving (positive or constructive)?
  • Why do you think this is the case?
  • Why should you balance positive and constructive feedback?

You will explain the points on the right after the activity.

  • The notes for these points are further down, after the activity instructions.
  • Ask participants to form groups of 3 or 4 people.
  • Ask each group to answer the questions on the slide and discuss within the group.
  • Give groups 5 minutes for the discussion.
  • After the time is up, start a discussion with the whole class for each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. Allocate 5 minutes for this.

If you are teaching online

Use breakout rooms to separate participants into groups.

Once the group activity is over, bring the participants back to the main room for the whole class discussion.

Explanations for the Points on the Right-hand Side

After the discussion, show the points on the right of the slide and explain one by one, as below.

1. Beware the ‘sandwich’

You might have come across the idea of the feedback sandwich, whereby you are supposed to start with positive feedback, then deliver the criticism, and finally end with another positive comment.

So, if you imagine the sandwich, the compliments at the start and the end are the bread and the criticism is the heart of the matter, the meat or the cheese or whatever you eat in a sandwich.


Why do you think managers are so often advised to use this technique?

Wait for answers.

After the participants have answered, explain as below.

The idea is that this approach will make the recipient less defensive as balancing positives with negative is supposed to protect their self-esteem. So, the manager feels better about giving constructive feedback.


Why might there be a problem with this approach?

Wait for answers.

After the participants have answered, explain as below.

The recipient might feel confused because the main message (i.e., the request to change behavior or to improve) is diluted.

Also, if this method is used all the time, eventually the employee will start associating any offer of feedback with criticism.

So, when the manager calls them for a one-to-one meeting, the employee will think ‘What have I done wrong now?’ and will become anxious.

At the same time, the employee will perceive the compliment as fake and insincere, just a tool to soften the blow.

So, in the end, the sandwich detracts from the reinforcement of positive feedback and devalues the impact of constructive feedback.

2. Keep positives and negatives separate

Having discussed the fact that the ‘sandwich’ is not very effective, you still need to give positive feedback.

Positive feedback is invaluable, and you need to give employees a lot of it, way more than you give constructive feedback.

This is because positive feedback, as we have discussed, reinforces good behavior and makes people feel appreciated and, therefore, happier, more engaged, and more productive.

It is better though to give positive feedback separately from constructive feedback so that people appreciate it more and see it as sincere.

Praise constitutes positive feedback, but, although praise is important, you might not want to praise your staff for every little thing as otherwise, it can come across as fake.

Positive feedback though can also mean making people feel appreciated.

So, you can give them recognition and create a culture in which positive events happen daily.

This means creating an overall positive culture in the company, in which people are supported, listened to, and respected.

Create a culture in which employees are free to express their opinions without fear and are encouraged to problem-solve together with their managers.

The idea is that positive events need to outnumber negative events.

3. Remember negative feedback bias

As humans, we are wired to remember negative events more strongly than positive ones. When it comes to feedback, this phenomenon is known as the ‘negative effect bias’.

We tend to remember more vividly when somebody has been critical of us rather than complimenting us.

This bias in favor of negative events might happen because, for our ancestors, it was more important to pay attention to threats rather than pleasurable events, in order to survive.

For example, it was more important to be alert to the presence of a predator than to a nice piece of fruit when thinking of a place.

Knowing this, keep in mind that you need to give a lot more positive feedback in comparison to criticism if you want staff to also remember the positives.

How much more? (You might ask)

4. Use 5:1 ratio

John Gottman, a relationship researcher, has worked out that the ratio is 5 to 1. So, for a couple to be successful, for every 1 negative interaction or feeling, there need to be at least 5 positive interactions or feelings to counterbalance the negatives.

This principle can be applied to work relationships too. You don’t have to count every time you create positive or negative interactions with an employee.

Just use this idea as a rule of thumb, to remember that you need to allow for much more positivity than negativity if you want a happy and motivated workforce.

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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds