How an Effective Evaluation Changed my Life

Using the “Sandwich” Method

Do you cringe at the thought of having to give feedback? Whether it is evaluating an employee’s performance or giving a friend or loved one feedback when requested, the prospect of giving a positive yet helpful appraisal can be a tricky prospect. 

I find giving an effective evaluation one of the most difficult things to accomplish. 

How do you tell someone how he or she can improve in a way that does not crush the spirit or cause feelings of incompetence but rather encourages growth?

I learned a valuable tool for giving feedback when I joined Toastmasters, an organization that helps people with their public speaking and leadership skills. ( In Toastmasters, part of the growth process is being able to give feedback to someone who has just given a presentation. Speakers vary greatly in their levels of expertise, which provides fertile ground for practicing this skill. I have benefited greatly from this process, both as the evaluator and as the one being evaluated.

I first joined Toastmasters because my shyness and lack of ability to speak in front of even a few people was affecting my ability to do my job effectively. My first talk – three to five minutes introducing myself to the group was painful…for both myself and those who had to listen to me. I stammered, said about 35 “ums” and “ahs” while I rambled somewhat incoherently. 

I couldn’t even talk about the subject I knew best – myself.

My evaluator, bless his heart, had quite a job in front of him, to give me feedback that was positive and encouraging while giving me areas to work on (the easy part!). The goal in evaluating/providing feedback is to help people know that they already have something to offer while at the same time helping them to grow. In order to do that, we must come from a place of caring, looking at it from the perspective of “how do I truly help this person?”

That’s where the “sandwich” method comes in, providing a framework to accomplish this tricky task of providing genuinely helpful feedback. The formula is simple, start by highlighting what is going well – aspects about the person and/or the job she or he is doing. The person who gave me my first evaluation applauded my courage to get up there and just do it, being willing to do something so outside of my comfort zone. Apparently, I had a nice smile and seemed friendly…all aspects that are necessary to connect with an audience. These were small things, but they were positive, and they made me feel hopeful, that maybe I did have something that I could work with. 

After hearing that an evaluator feels that there are truly positive aspects to what was presented, the person being evaluated will likely be more open to receiving feedback as to what can be done to be even better. In this part of the evaluation, we want to give only one or two suggestions for improvement. Any more than that, the person can begin to feel attacked. Try to be specific and provide examples. One suggestion I received in my evaluation was to speak up. I had spoken softly, which not only decreased the perception that I was confident in what I was saying, but also, many in the audience could not hear what I was saying.

Lastly, we want to end on a positive note. Often that means rephrasing or paraphrasing some of the positive things from the beginning of the evaluation or letting the person know that you are excited to watch them as they continue to progress in their goals. 

That’s it, the “sandwich” method: We are “sandwiching” the discussion of areas that need improvement between what is going well. Giving a good evaluation is so important in helping people to want to continue in their growth rather than to become discouraged, feeling that they will never be good enough. As a result of the great evaluation I received after my first speech, I continued on, getting better and better. It helped me to gain confidence not just in speaking in front of people but also in my life in general. I took on leadership roles that I would never have considered before, both in Toastmasters and in my profession. It truly changed my life, and for that I am forever grateful. 

The next time you are asked to provide an evaluation or feedback, remember, how you say it has the power to help spur that person to new heights or to knock them down. How we say it really matters. Try the “sandwich” method. It really works!

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