Use The Sandwich Method To Provide Constructive Criticism

A Reuben, My Favorite!
A Reuben.  My Favorite!

There's a fine line between being a jerk and being constructive.  As a parent, manager, spouse, or friend, most of the time we just want what's best for others.  The problem is, we're afraid to offend and we therefore lose any ability to help.

There's no better reward than advising someone how to improve, and then watch them flourish.  Push the person too far, however, and you'll engender resentment.  The Sandwich Method is one the best ways for delivering constructive feedback.

SCENARIO: Your friend Sam comes up with a corny idea for a website called “Financial Samurai.”  Sam thinks it will become a Top 25 personal finance site in the world one day and thinks the tagline “Slicing Through Money's Mysteries” is catchy.  He thinks he'll be able to retire off the advertising revenue and is already thinking about buying the latest Audi S5 and quitting his day job with his expected income.

You know better because there are 50 million active websites out there (200+ million total), and only the top 100,000 (0.2%) sites earn 74% of all the revenue according to Alexa.  As a friend, how do you knock some reality into Sam, without crushing his enthusiasm?


1) Top slice of bread: Provide positive reinforcement about his idea!  Even if you think his idea is the lamest thing on Earth, it's important to believe in the person because frankly, anything is possible.  You don't want to be the friend who didn't believe in him, and then see him crush it and resent you for not supporting him in the beginning.  Specifically highlight things he's positive about that you can support i.e the domain name and tag-line in this example.

2) The Corned Beef & Sauerkraut: After providing encouraging words, provide suggestions on alternatives to his idea.  Also make sure he's not delusional by discussing the difficult competitive landscape, and the realities of starting a business in such a hyper competitive world.  You have to be the voice of reason, because whenever someone is so gung-ho about their idea, they often lose site of reality. It's your job to shake reality into their souls.  Examples of constructive feedback:

“Did you know that after 6 months, most publishers quit due to a lack of interest, income, and drive?”

“Even if you had 1 million page views a month, at a CPM of $2.5, your one ad would only make you $2,500 a month!”

“How are you going to compete against guys who blog full-time?  What about sites that have a conglomeration of writers?  There's no distinction between part-time, full-time, conglomerate bloggers from an advertiser's point of view.  The odds are stacked against you, but good luck, sucka!” (omit sucker and replace with fool).

“You have no computer skills, you still have a really crappy computer, and you're just not that interesting.  As a result, you're going to have to work harder than others for perhaps not as much return.  You ready to suffer?”

Realities like the above helps squeegee the mist off Sam's delusional windshield.

3) The bottom slice of bread: Before your criticism goes too far, it's important to return to all that's positive about his idea.  Mention to Sam that with the right dedication, you believe he will succeed.  Highlight those who've made it, and use them as anchors to encourage his efforts.  The conversation should end with genuine support, given that you have already provided all the pitfalls.

CONCLUSION – Constructive Criticism Is Good

The Sandwich Method is a powerful tool for providing constructive criticism to your loved ones.  Sometimes huge financial risk is at stake, such as taking out a second mortgage to lever up and buy gold at $1,350.  It's important to beat the living sense into those you care about without ruining your relationship.  After many blunders of my own, trust me when I say they'll thank you, eventually!  Anybody starving for a Reuben yet?  Happy Holidays!

Relatd: Why I Failed At Early Retirement: A Love Story

Readers, how do you provide constructive criticism to the people you care about in a way that doesn't offend them?  Is it me, or do younger folks take criticism more personally that older folks?

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Sam – “Slicing Through Money's Mysteries”

Updated for 2020+.

40 thoughts on “Use The Sandwich Method To Provide Constructive Criticism”

  1. Ms. Conviviality

    I’m having trouble sleeping because my method of constructive criticism isn’t going over so well at work so I got online to see what FS had to say about constructive criticism. While I have heard of the sandwich technique before, the example gave me the laugh that I needed. It’s awesome that this article was written just as the blog was getting started and FS is one of the top personal finance sites.

  2. Hey Sam,

    Great article. Nice breakdown and very creative using the different levels of the sandwich. I’m gonna use this when dealing with close friends and family. Will be handy during the holidays. :) Thanks!

  3. Roger, the Amateur Financier

    Interesting method; I’ve heard it before, but it never hurts to be reminded now and again. Not a bad method, and all the talk of sandwiches definitely has gotten me hungry!

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    – David

  5. One has another thing to be concerned about or pay attention to –

    If you are giving advice to a person with different culture background, a culture you might have lived or come from before, but many years ago. Because sometimes you may find the other person getting a little upset, when in fact you thought you havn’t said anything negative. My advice in this situation is to say less or agree with the other person if it doesn’t harm.

  6. @David
    You’ll have to tell me more about this commission Junction and Linkshare program. I’m thinking of just compiling a list of 10-20 links I’ll put on my side bar as sponsors which I can individually investigate first. Payment will be on a monthly fixed basis. Let me go check out your ads more and observe!

  7. @admin Great topic. I think a lot of people get similar analogies in management classes and supervisors’ training but conveniently forget what they learned when it’s time to put it into practice. My experience has been most people will tell everyone but the person who needs the constructive criticism what they think, whether they’re right or wrong. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, that way I always know where I stand.

    As far as Adsense goes, I hate it. I don’t like the fact they pick the ads that get dished up and don’t give you very much control over the content. I got ads for things I really didn’t want, like penny stocks and trading software. I signed up with Commission Junction and Linkshare and picked a handful of companies I like and rotate ads using the WordPress plugins AdRotate and Ad Buttons. I don’t really expect to make any money but as long as people keep clicking I’ll leave them up. It’s another gauge to show me what readers are interested in and sometimes I can find limited time offers and coupons to advertise.

  8. Andee Sellman, One Sherpa

    Thanks for the interesting post.
    I have heard this phenomenon described as the MOTIVATION sandwich. The pieces of the sandwich being encouragement, confrontation, encouragement.
    It’s a great method to bring clarity and direction to difficult situations

  9. I am a toastmaster and at toastmasters we employ the sandwich technique when evaluating speeches. It is a very effective method to reinforce that which is good, and give the speaker something to work on to make it even better.

    In true toastmasterspeak, (I know there is no such word but I take license :-) the “criticism” is delivered in a much friendlier language, supportive rather than accusative, i.e., something along the lines of

    “… that is a very competitive field you’re entering, did you know that ….. now I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but my experience in anything I have tried was to double the time and half the results, what about you? …..?

    Show your support by asking how you can help Sam get started.

    My two cents worth – hmmmm. with inflation etc, should now be changed to my quarter’s worth?


  10. @Mike Piper Awesome Mike, that’s really great! I’m impressed you took the plunge. Was there a life moment that just told you to make the change such as an angry fight with a colleague?

    Sometimes, when I get overloaded at work, I just feel like things are hopeless. But then, I look on the bright side (I’ve got a job) and get motivated quickly again. I’ve always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but the job offer I got out of college was just way too attractive to pass up.

  11. @LeanLifeCoach That’s a good strategy regarding depersonalizing things, and not focusing on “their” idea! I think the smart and supersensitive ones though might be like, ‘why you talking about someone else’s idea, it’s MINE, mine, mine and I’m right here so talk to me!”

  12. @admin

    Interesante Mike. To clarify, you worked 25-45 hours per week on your blog and your book for 2 years on top of your day job before you made the jump?


    I ended up leaving my job before the business fully paid all of our expenses. That is, we were cash-flow-negative for a while right at the time I left.

    I left my job when, based on the amount of cash we had saved up, the level of our expenses, and the level of the business’s income, I’d have 36 months before we ran out of cash. I figured three years would be enough time to get the business’s income to the point where it paid our expenses. It ended up taking 9 months.

    So for anyone counting, that’s 33 months total (24 building the business while working a full-time job, then another 9 full-time) before it paid all the bills.

  13. In management development we find too often co-workers are reluctant to criticize in the first place, especially when it is to a supervisor.

    Another method we use to overcome this challenge is to focus not on the person or the fact that it is “their” idea in question but the process or subject itself; depersonalize it.

    This is great advice on how to provide constructive criticism and a badly needed skill in corporate America and personal relationships.

    When I use the sandwich method idea in my next class I will make sure to credit FS!


    It’s funny that today I went to lunch and my buddy got a reuben (I really wanted one to after it came out)… I should have got one to, but instead I got a chicken quesadilla (at least it was good)…

    I’ve never heard of the sandwich technique, but I think I’ll use that in the future! I use to flip flop on the pros and cons about 10 times, until the person I was talking would become totally confused.

    Thanks for the advice (I learned something new).

  15. that’s such a cool way to think about things. Giving people at work constructive criticism is quite difficult and telling loved ones is even harder! Main thing is not to jump to conclusions and shoot someone’s idea down on the spot. Having someone cut you off before you get to finish pitching an idea is not just frustrating it can really hurt feelings and confidence. I really like your mention of finishing with positive points when giving someone suggestions on how to improve. That lets the listener know you really listened to them and are offering heartfelt support.

  16. Credit Card Chaser

    I think that its important to factor in the temperment of the person receiving the criticism because everyone handles criticism differently. For example, if you are coaching a basketball team then a good coach definitely understands that different players are motivated/accept teaching/accept criticism in different ways.

  17. This article was so funny; I had to chuckle. I think i’ll be testing the sandwich method out tonight. Someone should try the sandwich method to investing next.

  18. Getting people to hear your criticism without going on the defensive is always the trick. When someone is excitedly telling you about this awesome new idea they have, anything negative is generally taken personally. Maybe they think you are being pessimistic, or that you are jealous, or any other number of factors.

    I think your framework of beginning and ending with a positive and supportive statement does wonders to turn off this defensive reaction, and I have used it (or something similar) many times. I tend to tell them it’s not a bad idea and actually consider what they are telling me. I’ll then go into asking more specific questions about it to indirectly get to my criticism. This way my questing tends to highlight to the person what they need to consider further to be successful.

  19. Thicken My Wallet

    Isn’t the real key getting from top slice to the meat? Most people tune either everything out before the word “but” and after the word “but”- either they hear the praise and think you support them or they hear the criticism and call you a hater.

    So the question becomes how do you transition using the appropriate wording?

  20. @Larry L, New York You’re probably right Larry hence my example of 1 million page views a month only equals $2,500. The Alexa blog link from the article provides some good insight as well.

    I’m not interested in selling anything to anybody at the moment, b/c I admittedly I kinda tune out myself to sites that do, unless they are fervent users of the product.

    I don’t think I’ll be putting on any of those Adsense ads either, since I never click on them myself. Who knows. I might experiment a little, but not now.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  21. Larry L, New York


    IMHO most blogs don’t make much $$$ via the ads, it’s from the services to sell/upsell to the people reading the site. They trust the brand (in this case you) are offering.

    It’s a means to an end instead of an end in itself. Ad banners money I consider gravy (to keep in line with the food discussion and Thanksgiving!)

  22. Neal@wealthpilgrim


    I created Wealth Pilgrim to support a book that I wrote and still trying to sell.

    I just love writing and make ZERO from it now. However, I’m coming out with a few products very soon and hope to make a few shekels.

    I’m going to try to build a model like Mike’s.

    But I’m also starving right now. Thanks a lot!

  23. I’m hungry too. Pacific NW has very little in the way of decently thin sliced corned beef. And some places put the wrong cheese on!

    IMO, most people naturally do this. The guy who first thought to write it down and make millions selling books was a genius!

  24. @Larry L, New York Not sure whether your question is to Mike (since this comment system is so not intuitive!), but if it is direct to me, I’m trying to figure out how to make millions from this site first. First things first! :) Actually, I have a ton of business ideas, but my focus really is with work right now.

  25. My boss taught me how to write sandwich emails when I first started working. Almost everything had to have these three elements before I could hit the send button. It was very useful advice, and one that I try to follow as often as I can.

  26. Larry L, New York

    What about making $$$ off via other means and not just the blog itself? ie online courses, seminars and the like?

  27. John DeFlumeri Jr

    I like the way you explained it using the sandwixh method. It is so logical, and I know it works. Thanks.

    A great Thanksgiving to you too!

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  28. By the way that sandwich is totally making me so hungry right now. Constructive criticism is best, when people ask for your advice, give it. Just don’t come down too hard, find positives if you can and work them in, but give true advice, they are looking for it and feedback to make changes.

  29. I think the only criticism people listen to is ht ekind that comes from personal experience. There re always exceptions, and hearing third-hand about someone’s experience doesn’t have much of an effect, but your friend telling you about how their experiences directly relate to you can be powerful. Even think about how much a friend telling you about a great movie. That has a much bigger impact than reading a review in the newspaper.

  30. @Mike Piper Interesante Mike. To clarify, you worked 25-45 hours per week on your blog and your book for 2 years on top of your day job before you made the jump?

    Was there a monetary goal you set yourself up for i.e make $5,000/month and I’m out, before leaving?

    Thnx for the book tip.

  31. As to how I “went full-time” :

    It took me about two years of working anywhere from 25-45 hours per week. Some people make it happen faster. Others not so fast.

    My business model is quite different from other bloggers. About 2/3 of my income is from book sales. The remaining 1/3 is a mix of some adsense and some affiliate revenue. If the writing/publishing/selling books business model is something you’d be interested in, I’d suggest checking out Aaron Shepard’s Aiming at Amazon.

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