Have you ever been in a situation where you had to give feedback, and didn’t know what to say?
For photographers, this can come up in a range of different scenarios. You might have been asked to look over a fellow photographer’s work, but found it lacking. You might be advising clients on how they can look better in their photos.
There are also so many different situations in life where we might have criticism to give, but we don’t want to come across too negatively or provoke a negative reaction.
If that sounds familiar to you, here is a great technique that you can use to deliver constructive criticism when need: the sandwich method.
Does that make no sense at all? Don’t worry, it will. Here’s everything that you need to know about using this technique.
What is the sandwich method?
The sandwich method is so called because it consists of three parts: two outer parts and one filling, just like two slices of bread with your favourite options inside.
In this case, instead of bread, we have compliments. And instead of the sandwich filling, we will be giving out criticism.
When delivering what you have to say, you start by offering a compliment to the person on their work or their effort. Then you deliver the criticism that you have to give. Finally, you soften the blow by adding another compliment on the end.
How does the sandwich method work?
The sandwich method works on both yourself and the party that you are criticising, helping you both to feel better about the situation.
You feel better, because you don’t have to just deliver criticism and nothing else. They will feel boosted by the compliments that they receive. In fact, they may be more likely to go and work on improving the area that you have pointed out as a direct result of the good feeling that the compliments give.
It will make them feel as though all is not lost – they can improve their results, because part of what they are doing is already great.
How can you use the sandwich method?
Let’s take a look at some concrete examples of how the sandwich method can be used when you are giving critique.
For example, let’s say that a friend has asked you to look at their portfolio. They aren’t a professional by a long stretch, and their images lack editing. Here’s an example of something that you could say to them:
Compliment – “You have a really good eye for interesting scenes.”
Critique – “The images do need some editing to bring up the contrast and for colour correction, to make them look more professional.”
Compliment – “The composition is great, and you really have a foundation of good skills to build upon.”
Now, let’s try another example. In this example, you are directing a young woman who has never posed for photographs before. She is clearly nervous even though she has had a makeover and looks amazing.
Here’s what you could say: “You look really beautiful today. If you could just try to relax, your shots will look a lot better and more natural. Have some confidence in yourself! You are a stunning young woman and I love the intensity of your eyes.”
And finally, how about a model who has a bit too much confidence despite their lack of posing skills?
Why not try this: “I love your natural confidence! Just try to keep it a bit more contained and natural, you don’t have to invent a pose for every shot. You are so full of character and charming, which comes through even when you’re just standing naturally.”
Things to watch out for
When using the sandwich method, there are still some things that you want to watch out for to ensure that the method is as effective as possible. Avoid the following things:
- Giving the same compliment twice. This may feel as though they only have one good thing going for them – you can always find at least two areas to compliment
- Making the critique too harsh, so that they will feel there is no way to improve
- Delivering criticism rather than critique – you should always give them something to work on so that there is a solution to their issues
- Letting the last compliment descend back into a critique (“You’re a stunning young woman, but…”)
- Forcing it too much – if you are struggling to think of something nice to say, it will be obvious to the person you are critiquing
Areas of praise for tricky customers
If you are trying to use the sandwich method but the person you are critiquing doesn’t have a lot of good areas going for them, there is still always going to be something you can pick out. Try considering these things if you are stumped:
- The amount of effort that they have put in
- Natural talent or skill
- Their presentation (of the images, or of themselves)
- The confidence that they have in themselves
- Something unique about them that no one else has
- Any part of the process or experience that they have so far been getting right, even the smallest details
Building confidence around critique
As a general note, it’s always useful to help build someone’s confidence while you are critiquing them. Negative-only comments can knock someone down, and if you want to deliberate these, you should keep them private.
The best way to help build someone’s confidence is through praise. This doesn’t mean that you have to say they are great even when they aren’t. It’s about boosting someone’s strengths at the same time as helping them to work on their weaknesses.
Make sure that the person you are talking to always knows what they are doing right, and not just what they are doing wrong.
The sandwich method is a great way to make sure you build someone up even as you deliver critique. It will help them to feel more positive and won’t leave a nasty taste in your mouth, so it’s a win-win on both sides!