Praise Sandwich

As recently as April I blogged on the vexing issue of how salespeople can deliver criticism. Whether it be Managers with their charges, or account managers to customers that, at a particular juncture, are not “always right”, it can be a process fraught with traps.

I discovered courtesy of Undercover Economist Tim Harford that the technique I’d picked up from Junior Masterchef is a documented construct; the praise sandwich.

All three pieces from the above blogger are worth reading (description, why it fails, further ideas). And there’s even a Dummies How-to Guide on it.

Tim’s article is a long four thousand word opus about learning from failure but the first salient feedback passage runs thus;

The praise sandwich is a criticism made palatable because it is concealed between two scrumptious slices of praise

He then introduces the notion of “hedonic editing” (which links neatly with one of my favourite factors of Prospect Theory – “losses are far more painful than gains” – and to which he refers as the current “red-hot field of behavioural economics … “loss aversion” – that is, we seem to care more about losing what we have than we care about gaining something new”). It seems people perform a calculation, subtracting the bad from the good, to arrive at an overall emotion. But beware;

as a feedback technique it is risky: the sandwiched-between praise may be lost in the whole

What I found fascinating about his analysis, was transposing the idea that people should actively seek out someone to reliably critique their work into our sales arena.

He seems to imply that both getting this and actively acting upon it makes the difference. If this is true, then before we ourselves offer up any such critique, voluntarily or otherwise, then we should first establish how the object of our opinions sets themselves up to deal with such thoughts.

Imagine asking a client at the outset of a project how they elicit, examine and enact upon feedback. And building that (two-way process) into your ongoing monitor and control procedures. What if you did the same thing with a prospect on a new bid? And then there’s always the process with a manager and reportee to consider in this light.

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