Sandwich Theory & The Art Of Diplomatic Rejection



“I can take the despair. It’s the hope that kills you”

Going by what I’ve learnt in my stay here so far, interacting with various people, and in a session called “Giving and Receiving Feedback”, a North American came up with that quote in all probability.

Guess it was also learnt the hard way, when the author channeled all his extra energy and enthusiasm into something that was let’s say not too confidence inspiring and bordered on the embarrassing. But what hit me real hard was how the situation barely escalated (or according to the standards of escalation I had) The shock was about how very politely I was told off. A punch in the face right there from him, would have only led me to thank him profusely for giving me what I deserved, in the way I deserved it.

Cut to a conversation with a friend about it who brought up ‘sandwich theory’ at the same moment as I did. Let’s call it the art of diplomatic rejection. Like Obama says, the art of disagreeing without actually being disagreeable. It’s frustrating because it’s a bit like the job that you never heard back about. I mean, if there’s anything they should be doing, it it ought to be letting people know how good/bad their chances are. Informing them about the outcome. Not keep them hanging. But we live in a world where corporate diplomacy and political correctness rule and only someone truly inspirational foolhardy would take a chance with something like that. So back to the sandwich theory and the art of interpreting feedback.

-Insert same disclaimer as last piece-


‘CLM’ is short for Career Limiting Move

Typically coded feedback is indirect and camouflaged:

  • We generally like to
  • I’m a little concerned that
  • I’m not convinced that
  • I wonder if…

It often sounds like a suggestion. This is probably the toughest to decode. Some examples:

  • Try to (= you’re not and we expected you to)
  • Make sure that you (= you were supposed to)
  • We’d like to see you … more (= you’re underperforming)
  • Perhaps you could (= I want you to)
  • You might want to (= do it)
  • It may be a good idea to (= my way is better)


What you need to do is spot and listen to the meat. It’s incredibly mindnumbingly hard but like everything, with practice you can perfect it (or atleast that’s the hope!)

But remember, embarassments can be salvaged. Well…mostly. But the most important thing though is not the storm but the calm that comes after the storm. Reacting to feedback positively is key to repairing any damage that you may have done.

Here are some ways in which you can react positively:

  • Thank you for letting me know.
  • Do you mind if I take some notes?  I want to make sure I don’t forget anything.
  • I didn’t realize that.  I see now that I should have …
  • You’re absolutely right.
  • You make a very good point.
  • I apologize if I embarrassed you etc.
  • I hear what you’re saying.
  • I absolutely get it.
'Can I get you anything? Coffee? A biscuit?...A lift home?'

If only people were as honest and direct, pigs would fly





  1. Now there is another factor here …
  2. I should let you know that there was another element at play/consideration …
  3. There was a reason why …  I’m not sure if you are/were aware that …

And make sure you follow up on email!

  • Thank you for taking the time to point out …
  • I appreciate your letting me know that …
  • It was very kind of you to tell me that …
  • In future, I will make sure to …
  • From now on, I will …
  • If there’s anything else I can do better or differently, I hope you will let me know.
  • I want to do my best in this role and I am always grateful for your feedback.

One last thing to make note of: There is no right or wrong. No black or white. No yes or no. Only one strict rule: Take a call.


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