What if Negative Feedback was Just Called Feedback?

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.”

-- William Shakespeare


Mr. Shakespeare knew of many things, but did he understand the complexity of implicit bias?

Would a particular rose smell as sweet if it was called a stinking rose? Certain politicians who employ this technique know very well that it would not.

Words matter.

In medicine, we have a rose called feedback that we often qualify. As in, “I have some positive feedback to give you,” or, “I have some negative feedback.”

We add these adjectives because they make sense in our fixed (performance-based) mindset. Positive feedback is praise (which the fixed mindset craves), and negative feedback is harm.

It’s the reason we have the feedback sandwich – we hide the ‘feedback harm’ between two pieces of praise-bread.

If you’re a driving instructor and your pupil is driving across the yellow line, is it negative feedback to ask him to stay in the lane? Or is it just feedback?

Imagine you are supervising a resident in the ICU who is placing a central line, but doing it the wrong way. Here is a possible feedback sandwich for this scenario:

Bread: You washed your hands well :Bread


Bread: Your potassium replacement is excellent :Bread

Feedback shouldn’t need to be buffered, but the word ‘negative’ makes it hurt.  The person giving ‘negative feedback’ doesn’t want to give it (and often doesn’t as a result), and the person getting it doesn’t want to receive it. When we qualify feedback using the sandwich or other techniques, we play into the fixed mindset (performance over growth).

What if negative feedback was just called feedback? And everyone’s goal was growth? It’s possible, but we have to set the table with the right expectations and words.

Try going low carb with your next learner – feedback doesn’t need the sandwich.