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Why PAs Should Serve Up a Sh*t Sandwich

January 10, 2020  |  3 min read

Our CSO, Georgina Bale on the power of putting one negative between two positives. 

Okay, before we get started, a disclaimer is needed: I’m not suggesting that you save the remnants of your dog walk and put them between two slices of seeded bread to serve to your boss – although God knows we’ve all been tempted. No? Just me? Fine. 

So, what is a sh*t sandwich?

Literal translations aside, a sh*t sandwich is a tactic where you deliver bad news between two examples of good news. The good news being the bread, the bad news being the…you get the idea. 

It’s a communications strategy that tends to be adopted by those in positions where they frequently have to manage up. Of course, this is a key skill for PAs and EAs but anyone in a role required the management of the emotions can use it to subtle, but great effect.

It sets the tone

Have you ever been in a room when someone says “it’s bad news”? If you have, you’ll have experienced a sudden shift in atmosphere—it’s intense. If business owners experienced that kind of tension every time there was a  bit of not-so-great news, they’d be nervous wrecks by Thursday morning!

By using the sh*t sandwich technique, you keep the atmosphere and tone of the conversation on a fairly neutral level, instead of bulldozing their day every time there’s something difficult to report. 

It alleviates the weight of the bad news

The whole point of the sh*t sandwich is that the good news should outweigh the bad, and even if it doesn’t necessarily take away from the part in the middle, it will at least help to carry some of the burdens.

The most important thing to think about here is balance—sometimes the sh*t in the middle is so big that the good news simply won’t contain it. At this point, it’s not exactly a sandwich, and so in this case, it’s much better to just deliver the bad news straight up in all it’s steaming pile of gloriousness.

It gives them a more balanced perspective

If you do have some great news in your roster to deliver a well-balanced sh*t sandwich, you could really help your boss’s mental health. Us humans are hardwired with a negative bias, which means we often focus on the bad, even when there’s good stuff going on too. 

When it comes to running a business, that negative focus can multiply ten-fold and really take its toll on someone’s well-being (trust me on this one). By consistently delivering two items of positive news with the negative, you’ll subconsciously train their brain to expect more good than bad. 

It improves your relationship with them

Even if your boss starts to catch onto your sh*t sandwich technique, it shows that you’ve gone out of your way—each and every time—to think about how the news you deliver could have an impact on them. It takes research and effort to come up with two good stories for every item of bad news, but PAs do it all the time, because forward-planning, consideration and thinking about the bigger picture are part of what makes a great assistant. Plus, it means they won’t associate your face with bad news. 

On the flip side, a sh*t sandwich could help you too. There’s only one thing that’s worse than getting bad news and that’s delivering it. People don’t talk about how nerve-wracking that can be. If you only have bad news to give to your boss, you’ll start to feel uneasy every time they walk into the office, but with a sh*t sandwich, you’ll also have something positive and uplifting to say. 

What to do if you’re being served a sh*t sandwich

Asides from just calling it out and saying “thanks for the sh*t sandwich” the ideal response to this tactic is to respond in the same way. Acknowledge the great news at the beginning, tackle the bad news in the middle and then celebrate the good news again. The response is what makes the sh*t sandwich palatable.

At the end of the day, this tactic is—as mentioned above—just a manifestation of the key qualities required to be a fantastic PA. Emotional intelligence and communication are two of the most important skills to master as a Personal Assistant, because they play into every single part of the job, every single day. That’s why we dedicate our training workshops to giving PAs the tools to improve these key skills in the workplace—to skyrocket their careers and have a long-lasting positive impact on the people and businesses they support. 


Discover more about our training workshops and get in touch to find out more.

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