Skedsheet Blog

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The compliment sandwich

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We have a company philosophy – “brutal honesty”. I think it’s because we’re trained-as-engineers nerds without social graces. And, with technical questions there’s usually a right and a wrong answer and it’s provable through facts. When you’re ripping someone else’s design to shreds, it can usually come down to black & white:

  • Q) Your code sucks. It took me an hour to figure out what it does.
  • A) Just because you’re slow doesn’t mean my code is bad.
  • Q) Well, here you assume 1+1=3
  • A) Oh, crap.

However, brutal honesty doesn’t work in every situation. One way to be a little less offensive: the compliment sandwich, which means you add a compliment before and after every observation (usually perceived as criticism by non-disciples of brutal honesty).
I’m still not great at it. Example:

  1. Thanks very much for the time you spent on that help article, it looks like you put lots of work into it (my idea of a compliment)
  2. Paragraph 3 sucks. I fell asleep reading it. Let me know if you have a better idea. (brutal honesty)
  3. Uh, your hair looks nice. (oops. Probably didn’t need flattery )

The brutal honesty is something I try for in lots of situations as a moral compass. “Would I lose something by sugarcoating?” When we try too hard to please, sometimes we end up setting the wrong expectations, and that’s worse than offending someone. But, it’s also important to know your audience.


Written by Harry Hollander

February 2, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] Being a nice guy pays off. Despite the company philosophy of brutal honesty, we’re all fundamentally nice people… meaning we all truly care about the success of our […]

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