02 May

The Worst Kind of Sandwiches

by Jaysa Toet in Leadership 0 comments

Have you ever heard that kid’s song by Fred Penner:  “Sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine, I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time.” I’m totally with Fred on this one. My top favorite sandwiches are the classic PB&J followed closely by PB, banana and honey (don’t knock until you try it) but there’s one kind of sandwich nobody wants to “eat all the time”.

The Shit Sandwich

What is it?

Often referred to as the sandwiching approach, shit sandwich, compliment sandwich and more. It happens when a manager has something difficult to communicate to an employee and in order to do so “sandwiches” it between two positive things. For example:

MGR: Tina how’s it going, that’s a very pretty colour on you!

MGR: So you’ve been making a lot of mistakes in your documentation and that needs to stop.

MGR: You do a great job at answering the phone though!

Why it sucks:

For some reason, Managers use this as a default and often don’t ever end up truly addressing the real issue. This approach also dilutes the impact of the compliment and the importance of discussing the negative issue. As a result, employees end up confused and may even end up dreading compliments because they know what’s coming next…

What to do Instead:

Effective leadership takes work! Sweeping problems under the rug or delivering a shit sandwich only makes things worse.

  • The first thing to remember is not to be nervous by ensuring you prepare for the meeting or conversation! When handling difficult issues or performance issues you need to be direct. Practice, by playing the conversation out beforehand so that you are able to get it right and ensure you deliver the message you intended to deliver in a tactful manner.
  • Don’t fall into the trap! Starting with “How are you?” and other small talk can be a recipe for disaster and completely derail your conversation so avoid this statement!
  • Be open and diagnose by asking the right questions. Depending on the situation there will always be a number of contributing factors so it is your job to gain a full picture.
  • Make a habit of talking to the members of your team one on one. Ensure you take time to communicate both positive and negative feedback independently.

There is no responsibility more important in an organization than leading its people. People leaders set the tone and their actions directly influence the culture of the organization and commitment level of their team.  Sandwiches belong in a bistro not your business.

Need to Sharpen Your Skills?

If the sandwich method the only leadership tool you have and/or you’d like to be better equipped to handle day to day situations and lead your employees effectively let’s chat. Acuity’s 4-day Intentional People Leadership Program equips leaders with specific actionable strategies and tools that they can use with their teams immediately. For more information contact me directly at or my colleague Jane Helbrecht.

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