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+.

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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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  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.

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