Can You Resolve a Conflict With a Compliment Sandwich?

Posted By on September 30th

Mark Murphy, CEO of LeadershipIQ (@LeadershipIQ), basically takes the position that a “compliment sandwich” is a terrible technique and not effective to resolve a conflict.

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First, what is a “compliment sandwich”? It is a popular technique that came to the attention of managers many years ago. As Mark Murphy describes it, it is a way of trying to criticize somebody without making them feel bad.

He does not like it because he says that it obscures the actual purpose of the conversation, which is to provide the other person feedback for the purpose of changing their behavior. Murphy believes that the receiver will only remember the two compliments that sandwich the request to change behavior. They won’t actually absorb the important part of the conversation.

Although I agree somewhat with Murphy, I do believe that a “compliment sandwich” has its place. For example, if the negative behavior you’re looking to change is minimal, I see no problem with sandwiching it with two strong compliments so that the person feels very positive about the conversation.

If the negative behavior that needs to be changed is more critical, then you absolutely don’t want that part of the discussion to get lost. You want them to clearly understand the need to change the negative behavior, and you also want them to know that they are a valued member of the team. As Murphy suggests, you can emphasize that you are speaking with them for the greater good, and that you are still cheering for their success. You don’t have to stick to the technicality, however, of sandwiching it between two confirmations. You just have to make sure that your two goals are met: 1) emphasize the need for changed behavior and 2) have a positive conversation.

You can read Murphy’s full article here and watch a video about the “compliment sandwich” technique here.

What do you think of the “compliment sandwich”? Do you believe it is an effective technique for changing behavior? You can answer in the comments below, and we can also continue the discussion on Twitter @ksgrossman

Interested in learning more about how to resolve a conflict?

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About the author

Keith Grossman helps individuals and businesses negotiate and manage conflict more comfortably. Keith is a Collaborative Attorney, a Family and Circuit Civil mediator certified by the Supreme Court of Florida, an Arbitrator qualified by the Florida Supreme Court, and an educator. Keith frequently lectures and facilitates training programs, works with individuals one-on-one, and writes articles on conflict management and negotiation topics. His e-workbooks, “What Is A Peace Chest?” and “How Do You Build A Peace Chest?“ are now available on Kindle.


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