The Oreo Cookie Approach to Constructive Criticism

oreoHow do you feel when someone sends you an email thanking you for something you did and telling you what a great job you did?

Feels good, right?

Now think about how you feel when you get a curt email pointing out several small mistakes in a big project you spent hours working on.

All of that warm positive emotion goes away in a hurry. You feel criticized and under appreciated.

Unconstructive Criticism

That’s just what happened to me this morning when a colleague shot off a brief email like this:

Hey Andrea. Just read the material. Please note the typos on pages 23, 42 and 36. And where were the additions I asked for on the list on page 52?

Yipes!

I had spent a long time conceiving the project and developing the material and all I heard was what needed to be corrected.

I felt myself close down and get grumpy. And when you’re feeling like that, your creative energy and excitement vanish.

Believe me, when someone is feeling criticized, it’s not good for the project!

So how can you give critical feedback in a way that doesn’t suck the energy and excitement out of the room?

Try the Oreo Cookie Approach

Sandwich your corrections or critical feedback between two honest, positive statements.

Here’s an example of how my colleague might have used the Oreo Cookie approach with me.

Cookie layer 1:

Thanks Andrea for doing a great job pulling this all together. I know you’ve worked hard on it and I love the way it’s organized.

Filling layer:

While you’re finishing it up, here are a couple of things I caught when I was reading it. Three typos — pages 23, 42 and 56. And while you’re add it, I’d love you to update the list on page 55.  I hope you find these helpful.

Cookie layer 2:

I’m so excited to see the finished product. I think it’s going to be a great addition to the field. Thanks for all of your hard work on it. I’m so pleased to be part of this project with you.

What a Difference a Few Words Make

The two cookie layers make the corrections easy to swallow. In fact, with this approach, the corrections don’t read as criticisms, they read as simple corrections.

Now, I know full well that my colleague doesn’t think I’m fool. And I don’t think he had any intention of being nasty or critical. He just was in a hurry to send feedback.

But, if you take just a bit more time and couch your feedback in between sweeter layers, you’ll find that your work and your relationships will all benefit.

TryTry ThisThis

Give Someone Feedback Using the Oreo Cookie Approach

With just a little practice, you’ll find that it’s easy to give constructive feedback with this model. You’ll start noticing more of the things that are great about your friends and colleagues. And you may find that has bigger (and more positive) consequences than you ever imagined.

Share you’re experience with the Oreo Cookie approach in the comments below.

(With thanks to Sali Taylor, my wonderful sometimes-coach, who first taught me this strategy. Sali is also a remarkable artist and open-hearted human being!)

  • Susan J Ragusa

    Andrea: When I graduated from college, I taught special education in NYC. At the new teacher orientation, my principal shared with us the importance of using the oreo cookie model when speaking to parents about how their children. I have used this mode over the years, in other situations — with a much better shelf life than the cookie. Thank you Tess!

    • I love your comment about this technique having “a much better shelf life than the cookie,” Susan. Plus, it’s healthy for involved.

      Not just a great communications strategy — it’s also plain, old-fashioned good manners and common sense to let your colleagues and team members know that you see and value their efforts.

      Come to think of it, unless the “constructive criticism” is really earth-shattering…why not just leave it out altogether?

      • Andrea Kihlstedt

        Indeed…I like the idea of just the cookie part. I’m off to get a glass of milk. Anything better than that…cookies and milk??? I think not.

        • That’s because you haven’t tried cookies and single-malt scotch! 🙂 But “T”s comment below is well-taken: hard to sandwich your suggestions for improvement in between two layers of positivity when the positivity barely registers. Andrea, you always have great ideas about that kind of thing; perhaps tackle it in a future column?

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      Thanks for the comment, Susan. Yes…I’m not sure we can ever have too many cookies like this though!

  • T

    Maybe the guy splits the Oreo, scrapes the filling off with his teeth and then throws away the cookie part! Something missing there.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      You raise an interesting point, T. Some people have trouble hearing and believing positive feedback, no matter how true it is. They are only left with the criticism. Very sad.

  • Randy

    Wow,
    this happened to me almost a month ago – and my mindset towards the company has changed ever since. – I will send you the email that I received. This was a very good read and I was able to relate.