Delivering Negative Feedback Is Not Always Easy. Trying This Emotionally Intelligent Trick Can Help

Forget the feedback sandwich. Do this instead.

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Giving negative feedback is a challenge.

Often, managers and team leads fear how a person will receive their feedback. They try to stuff the negative between positives–you know, the old feedback sandwich.

But that sandwich is rotten, for two main reasons. Most recipients will either:

  • Focus on the positive message, completely missing any constructive criticism
  • Resent the insincerity of the positive message, shifting focus to the method of delivery

On the other end of the spectrum, a leader may give criticism in a thoughtless manner that makes it extremely difficult for the recipient to manage (especially depending on his or her personality).

In all these cases, the recipient loses out on the chance to grow.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The truth is, we all need to hear negative feedback: It’s how we grow. Even if that feedback is unfounded, it informs us of perspectives we haven’t previously considered.

So, how can you deliver a negative message so the recipient sees it as intended–an attempt to help?

Here’s a trick you may find useful.

The Slap Table

I spoke recently with Kayne Grau, co-founder and CEO of Drivin, a startup that’s shaking up the auto industry. Drivin uses data (like consumer buying patterns, local car trends and competitor info) to help dealers build “smart lots,” so they’re more likely to have the car consumers are looking for.

Grau founded Drivin with long-time friend and neighbor Justin Mahlik, which led to a special challenge: the need to have daily, difficult conversations with a business partner who was a friend first.

“We have very different management styles,” says Grau.

So how do these two executives give each other the feedback they need in a way that’s beneficial, while maintaining their friendship at the same time?

They created the “Slap Table.”

When either Grau or Mahlik has to have a tough, potentially awkward conversation with the other, they both head to the “Slap Table.”

When you slap the table, you get 45 seconds to say what’s on your mind, without being interrupted. The rule is you’re not allowed to get upset: You’ve got to digest the feedback and appreciate it as necessary perspective.

“It’s a clean and easy way to clear the air and keep us aligned,” said Grau.

I like the idea of the Slap Table, because it fits right in with advice I’ve given repeatedly: the need to deliver positive and negative messages separately.

We all need positive feedback. It motivates us, supports us, makes us feel safe. When you’re in the habit of looking for the positive in others, you create a great working atmosphere that keeps employees engaged.

But you need those difficult conversations, too. Without disagreements and negative feedback, bad habits and faulty assumptions will spread throughout your company, causing major damage along the way.

The Slap Table allows you to share vital negative feedback as quickly as possible–while allowing the recipient to brace for what’s coming, then process it and grow from it. (My forthcoming book, which serves as a practical guide to emotional intelligence, outlines more specific strategies in how to benefit from criticism, and how to help others to do the same.)

Of course, you should make sure to praise at other, appropriate times. If you see something you like, tell the person as soon as possible. (If you can’t do it immediately, make a note or set a reminder to make sure you don’t forget.)

Handling praise and criticism in this way reinforces that you truly care about the other person, while also seeking the best interests of the company.

And that makes everybody better.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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