“The Art of a Turd Sandwich: Be Wise When You Criticize”

When you get stuck the craptastic task of delivering constructive criticism—remember that a real leader has the ability to turn potholes into mountains.

April 12th, 2017   |    By: Leah Zions    |    Tags: Advisors, Mentorship & Coaching, Strategy

You’ve eaten your fair share of turds in the workplace and if you’ve learned anything, it’s that it stinks and often causes indigestion. Then the day comes when it’s your turn to deliver the turd and watch a workmate clean his plate. If the notion of delivering constructive criticism makes you want to click your heels and sing a little ditty, maybe you should refer to my last article, (‘How to Fire a Superstar Employee in 6 Dick Moves’) it may be quite informative for you.

But, dear reader, if the act of crushing souls is less preferable than a lemon-soaked paper cut, here is my recipe for a turd burger that may come out a little smoother on the other end. Sorry if my poo jokes are a little corny…I went too far there, didn’t I?

Turd Sandwich

What is a Turd Sandwich?

I’m sure my colorful depiction may have given you a clue but, it is one of the many leadership lessons my dad taught me growing up. When you have to tell someone they’ve done something wrong or poorly, always serve the turd, (constructive criticism) between slices of empathy, praise and action.

I know what you’re thinking; that I am one of these millennials who feels like the world owes me a pat on the back and a participation award, and that getting knocked back a few pegs is a healthy dose of ego-check. To that I would argue that firstly, I am maybe a cusp millennial depending on which definition you find and that secondly, it is always a good time to tell someone what they’re doing right.

From Turds to Titans

Words can motivate and words can stagnate. Part of our job when we become the big Kahuna is to uncover the potential in our minions and help to elevate them from the little shits they are to the titans of industry they can become. This means you will be wearing the chef hat when it’s time to serve the turd sandwich.

When Brayden (To use a good millennial name) misses his third deadline this month and it’s time for a delivery from Chez Dookie, you have a great opportunity to exhibit leadership by framing your criticism through the lens of growth, empowerment and action.


You can start the conversation by simply asking questions, maybe he feels overwhelmed and you could help him balance. It could be that he is spending too much time on projects he enjoys more, and would be better suited in another role.

Uncovering these things will lower his guard when you tell him his poor performance has not gone unnoticed and that you would like help him find a way to improve. This thick-slice of turd meat can be drizzled with a some praise sauce and topped off with a toasted action bun.

You’ve given Brayden a sense of understanding and an actionable solution. This will help him to digest the turd more effectively and leave feeling like there is a tangible step he can take rather than feeling defeated.

Ok now, even I am sick of the potty talk. So next time you get stuck with the craptastic task of delivering constructive criticism, remember that a real leader has the ability to turn potholes into mountains…It’s your Dooty! (ok, I’m really done now)

Also shared on Team & Culture.

About the Author

Leah Zions

I am a digital marketer, business strategist and web designer obsessed with impactful branding, powerful messaging and elegant design. I have built my career and my company with people at the center of everything. I am an entrepreneur and highly engaged with the startup community in Denver as new ideas, business strategies, and innovation are what get me out of bed! Twitter: @MrsZebra

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