Hamburger Isn’t a Suitable Shape for Feedback

This time TL;DR comes at the beginning of the text and here it is: the hamburger feedback model shouldn’t be used for giving feedback. Ever. No matter what.

The hamburger feedback model is this:

  • Start by giving first positive feedback
  • Then, give critique and development proposals
  • End the situation with positive feedback

It’s easy to guess the reasons for the popularity of this model. We believe, that if we start and end with positive feedback, the stake that lies in the middle is more easy to swallow. We think, that by starting with positive feedback the receiver is tuned into a more receptive mood. And nobody’s being left with hard feelings, when at the end we remind them that there is also something good.

However, this kind of feedback model causes either one of two bad scenarios. In the first scenario the relevant critique stays unheard when it’s wrapped in the middle of compliments that steal the attention. In the second one, the surrounding positive feedback stays unheard, if the receiver knows that the negative notions are coming in the middle. In either case, the critique isn’t being dealt with properly.

Well, this was pretty good but

If the receiver is prepared for the critique, the first part of the feedback passes completely by. It feels like a mere padding for the inevitable, and we pay no attention to it. And even if we did, that but which comes after (whether it’s said out loud or not) negates everything, that was said before.

Now we can splurge a little criticism here, since we have given it some padding here and there.

The compliment that comes at the end feels usually like it’s been forced and only made up for the occasion. We already feel low because of the feedback, so the compliment feels like a consolation prize you get in the skiing competition. It feels fake even if it was actually honest and the giver meant it sincerely. The worst thing about the padding is that it either ends the conversation completely or leads it on the wrong track.

How should we relate to the critique, what should we do now?

The hamburger feedback model lets all parties off too easy. Critique is supposed to open up an opportunity to develop, grow and change. It rarely does its work unless we have an open conversation. It is, however, very hard to start talking about the critique if the feedback situation is already finished with the final compliments.

Talking about the critique would also give the receiver a chance to tell their own opinions and viewpoints. In some cases it could also change the view of the one that is giving the feedback. You see, it might be so that the feedback actually wasn’t as relevant as it seemed in the first place, and without conversation it remains the only truth. In the worst case scenario, the compliment gives both parties a permission to escape the situation and leave the issue there.

This is by no means the first doomsday for the hamburger feedback model

I don’t want to claim to be the first one to criticize the hamburger model. Its flaws have been recognized elsewhere as well, I just happen to agree with this judgement with all my heart.

But what do you think? Would you rather have your feedback as a hamburger, or served in a different way? Throw me a comment or come to talk about it in Koodarikuiskaaja Slack.

Or what do you think?

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