The Celebration Sandwich
Some years ago I was talking to a friend of mine about how I critique someone's work. I explained that I like to start off with a positive before providing the negative and she said, "oh, a Celebration Sandwich!" I asked her what that was and she said it's a compliment, followed by a criticism, followed by a compliment... like a sandwich with the criticism between two compliments. I loved it and adopted the additional compliment at the end to make sure any conversation of this nature ended on a high note.
One of the most difficult things to do is give and receive constructive criticism. I adopted the Celebration Sandwich because it's how I would like someone else to criticize my work. It sucks when you put a lot of effort into something and the person you're working for only points out what they don't like. On the flip side of that, it's hard to critique someone's work in a way that motivates them rather than deflate them.
I have two stories on this topic that I hope will illustrate both sides of the subject. The first is a project I did a couple years ago for a client who was a very tough nut. Most of the feedback was critique with hardly any compliments. When he did provide a compliment, it was very neutral. He never smiled. It's not like I needed to be showered with compliments, but I needed some idea of what he liked, a base line, in order to gauge how best to complete the project. Without knowing what he thought was good, or what made him happy, it was difficult to know if he was genuinely satisfied with the work. In the end I was happy with it and he seemed happy with it, but the experience wasn't the best.
In the second example I was supervising an artist who was drawing some characters for me. When he delivered his first draft they were much more cartoonish that I hoped they would be. They were amazing, but not what I was looking for. I started off by telling him how much I liked the work and made sure he understood that I recognized his talent. I then told him the direction I wanted to move the artwork and closed with a reassurance of my confidence in his abilities. The next draft was exactly what I wanted and he even expressed he was happier with the second draft. We ended up having a wonderful collaboration and he is someone I would love to work with again.
As much as I love the Celebration Sandwich, it doesn't always work. Critiquing another person's work is always difficult and it is equally difficult to be critiqued. The objective of the Celebration Sandwich is to provide feedback that motivates and keeps people invested in the project. It's a way to steer someone's work in the direction you want it to go while assuring them of their talent and contributions. It's how I like my work to be critiqued. Next time you're in the position to critique someone's work, give it a try and see how it works for you.