Giving feedback, especially when it's critical, is a difficult but necessary function of managing people. Managers who don't want to come across as confrontational will often resort to a "praise sandwich," tucking negative feedback between two compliments.

And while it remains a popular option, the praise sandwich is a stale choice. Not only do some people find this manner of feedback less reliable, they are often more likely to focus on the praise at the end of the sandwich instead of the critique in the middle -- serving neither the feedback giver nor the intended recipient.

In my book The Feedback Fix, I propose a simple alternative -- a feedback "WRAP."

It stands for:

What/Where: State what has happened and where it is happening.

Reason: Describe the reason this issue requires attention.

Affect: Explore the emotions this causes with "I" statements ("When this happens, I feel...")

Prompt: Shift from blame to contribution by asking the recipient to suggest strategies and solutions.

Instead of disguising critical feedback with empty praise, feedback WRAPs bundle specific observations with nonjudgmental emotions. They address issues with candor and coherence. Most importantly, they shift the tone and trajectory of feedback, giving the recipient more voice and choice over what happens next.

Say you're a sales director in a midsize company. Lately, you've become frustrated by Mike, one of your top-performing sales reps, who has developed a habit of interrupting clients in pitch meetings and cutting them off mid-sentence. You've noticed that this creates an uneasy dynamic and may even be costing you prospects. You appreciate Mike's energy but need him to exercise more restraint and better listening during meetings.

If you're serving a praise sandwich, the feedback probably goes something like this:

"Mike, you're one of my best sales guys, but can you do me a favor and tone it down a little when we're pitching clients? But hey, keep bringing that energy, my friend!"

Now, if Mike is like most people, he walks away from that feedback encounter thinking that he's a top performer (praise) and that you, as his boss, want him to maintain his current sales posture (praise). He is so attuned to these messages that he overlooks the part about showing restraint (critique). Instead of addressing the core problem, you've probably only reinforced it.

Now re-imagine this conversation using a WRAP approach:

What and Where: "Mike, I noticed you interrupted the client twice in this morning's pitch. Can we talk about that real quick?"

Reason: "I'm bringing this up because it seemed to create some tension in the room. The client was trying to get a point across but couldn't finish. Did you happen to notice that?"

Affect: "When I saw that, I felt uneasy -- I kept thinking we might be hurting our chances by not letting the client be fully heard."

Prompt: "What's your take on the best way to go forward here?"

This is high-grade feedback. You clearly define the cause and context (interrupting the client twice during a pitch); explain your rationale (it led to tension); explore why it matters to you (could cost the team leads); and seek genuine input from the recipient (rather than imposing a solution). Not only does Mike know exactly what's on your mind and why you care, but he's prompted to evaluate this information for himself and generate his own call to action.

By approaching others as their partner and removing fear and uncertainty, your feedback is more likely to be positively received. And because you're eliciting their ideas and suggestions, any go-forward solution is more likely to stick because it came from them, not you.  

Talking to people about their performance is never easy, but experience has shown me that when these conversations are reframed with a WRAP approach, people feel truly served by the feedback they get -- and may even start coming back for more.

Published on: Sep 26, 2018