The “compliment sandwich” is a technique of softening criticism by prefacing negative feedback with something positive, then following it with another compliment.
It’s also garbage.
It’s feedback junk food. It’s a condescending, ineffective, garbage sandwich, and we should collectively stop serving it (and accepting it from others).
“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale
Positivity is important, of course. We need to know what works, what resonates with our audience, where we’re on the right track. A little ego boost never hurts, either. But you’re not fooling anyone. The compliment sandwich places too much emphasis on what “ain’t broke.” Our weaknesses can be harder to identify than our strengths, and even harder to correct. So while it may not “taste” as good initially, negative feedback is inherently more valuable.
The drive to balance criticism with compliments can also lead to vague or insincere positivity. Honest and constructive criticism alerts us to problems we perhaps were not aware of. Plus it offers potential solutions we might not have come up with on our own. To dilute this important feedback with weak blandishments muddles the message and buries the lede.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill
When you’re trying to pound a creative project into shape, back-patting will never be as effective as butt-kicking. So in lieu of the compliment sandwich, try a criticism sundae: a maraschino cherry sized summation of why the project has potential, why it’s worth investing the time and effort to improve, followed by a big bowl of How-we-can-make-this-better. It might be painful at first, but if you are serious about pushing your project from good to great, the criticism sundae should be a staple of your diet.