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The positive sandwich is most definitely out when it comes to challenging conversations with staff


Linkedin revved up recently following an article from the SmartCompany on the sandwich feedback model, referred to as the “sh*t sandwich” feedback model.

The sandwich feedback model places negative feedback between two layers of praise, and is widely used, but it's often ineffective.

So how it works: In this model, a manager will open with a compliment, insert the critical feedback, then end with another positive comment—essentially, a compliment, critique, compliment sequence. Good. Bad. Good.

It’s supposed to soften the blow and preserve the recipient's self-esteem by balancing criticism with encouragement.

In my view, it doesn’t work because it lacks authenticity.

For addressing serious issues, like significant performance problems or inappropriate behaviour, this approach can dilute the importance of the feedback and may not convey the urgency or seriousness needed.

Connect with people on a deeper level

That’s where Catalyst Conversations come in.

A Catalyst Conversation is all about connecting with people on a deeper level, sparking inspiration, and encouraging them to take action themselves, rather than just offering solutions. 

This approach is centred around understanding and nurturing individual autonomy, empowerment, and diverse viewpoints through flexible and engaging discussions.

These help make every conversation a better conversation. It's about catalysing people and this method can be learned in the Agile Leadership Journey course.

Goals of a Catalyst Conversation

Start by creating a safe and positive environment. This helps everyone feel at ease and more open to sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Inspire and Catalyse Action: Instead of jumping in to fix things, your role is to light a spark of inspiration that encourages the other person to find their own path forward.

The five steps of a catalyst conversation

Align objectives

Make sure you truly understand each other. It’s about more than just solving a problem; it’s about listening and sharing, adapting as you go to ensure you’re both aiming for the same goals. Remember it’s not a one-way street. 

Explore perspectives

Let your curiosity lead the way. Ask open-ended questions to help the other person express how they see things. Focus on understanding their view rather than the problem itself, and be mindful not to overwhelm them with too many questions.

Clarify understanding

Active listening is key here. Summarize what you’ve heard, offer your own insights, and empathise with their feelings to deepen your connection.

Share insight, wisdom, and perspective

Share your thoughts respectfully and humbly. Offer experiences that might be relevant, and help them see things they might have missed. This is about mutual exchange and learning together.

Empower action

Help them figure out what comes next. Offer your support and encouragement, but let them lead the decision-making. You’re there to assist, not to direct their journey.

Key principles to remember

It's a dance, not a straight line

Be ready to adapt and respond to the needs of the moment rather than sticking to a strict sequence.

Focus on the person, not the problem

Aim to help them see different perspectives on their situation, rather than zeroing in on the problem itself.

You're not the fixer

Your job is to inspire thinking and action, not to provide all the answers or solutions. You’re there to facilitate their own discovery process.

You don't need all the answers

Showing empathy and exploring ideas together is more important than being the expert in the room.

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