Exploring the Curious Case of Compliment Sandwiches

John Hartley
2 min readMay 2, 2023

I’m curious, what are your thoughts on compliment sandwiches?

I was chatting with someone yesterday on preferred ways to deliver and receive critical feedback. It seems like any time critical feedback comes up, compliment sandwiches work into the conversation.

For those that aren’t sure what a compliment sandwich is, it’s where you sandwich constructive or critical feedback between two compliments to soften the blow.

  • Compliment
  • Constructive/critical feedback
  • Compliment

Do you find this beneficial? Do your direct reports? Let me know below!

I love digging into shifts in the managerial landscape, and it feels like when it comes to giving feedback, we are in the midst of a pretty big shift.

Poking around a bit, it appears there’s a pretty solid Quora answer from Stavros Macrakis for when the “sandwich” terminology came into the business world:

The “sandwich technique” (also called a “criticism sandwich”), seems to have originated in the 1940s — the earliest example I’ve found dates from 1945. But it appears to have been widely popularized by Mary Kay Ash (founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics) in her book Mary Kay on People Management (1984), where she says (p. 39):

Sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise. … A manager should be able to tell someone when something is wrong without bruising an ego in the process.

Never giving criticism without praise is a strict rule for me. No matter what you are criticizing, you must find something good to say — both before and after. This is called sandwich technique.

The 1984 book identified in the above, Mary Kay on People Management, has the folllowing description: The founder of the three hundred million-dollar-a-year cosmetics company explains the management principles--based simply on the Golden Rule--that have propelled her company to astonishing success.

Further down the rabbit hole, The Golden Rule is the classic “treat others as you would like to be treated,” which has also been challenged in the last few decades. Instead of focusing on how you would like to be treated, The Platinum Rule focuses on how the individual themselves would like to be treated. This was popularized in the 1998 book by Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor called “The Platinum Rule.”

The intentions are good, and honestly, thinking at all about how to give feedback means your head is in the right place, but I’m curious about what other shifts we might see moving forward.

Doing more digging, it seems like any more there are more “don’t use it” posts than “use it” posts when it comes to compliment sandwiches, so maybe that model has reached its decline.

I’ll explore a bit further in the future, but definitely curious, do you think the compliment (or criticism) sandwich is dead?



John Hartley

Engineering leader with a passion for building and growing teams. Writing about leadership and management in the tech industry. Director of Eng @ Curology