BS Files #22: that compliment sandwich tastes gooood

The BS Files are kinda like the X-files – full of myths and urban legends and mysterious things. I feel that it is my duty to tackle them (occasionally). Because, you know, the truth is out there.

Case #22. Compliment sandwiches make it easier to hear bad news. Bullsh*t!

There’s a pretty well practiced myth out there about the compliment sandwich…actually, it’s some pretty dated advice given to people designed to make it easier for people to hear bad news. But it really makes it easier to deliver bad news, because we think we can avoid a difficult conversation.

Here’s the recipe for a compliment sandwich: You give a person a compliment or praise or say something nice. Then you deliver the negative message (the meat of the sandwich?). You follow up with another compliment. There’s an open-faced version, too, where you start with a compliment, deliver the negative message and get so side-tracked that there’s never any kind of positive solution.

You serve up the sandwich, the person receiving it eats it up, digests the whole thing (making any changes necessary), then wipes their mouth daintily with a monogrammed napkin, pushes away from the table and goes about their business. Everyone is happy and satisfied. Right?

Wrong. It hardly ever goes that way. And if it does, it works ONE time, until the person gets wise to your sandwich strategy.

The first compliment is pretty much ignored. It’s meaningless white bread filler material while we’re all waiting for the shoe to drop. No one pays attention. It’s the big but in the room. “You’re great, but…” And forget about any impact with closing compliment could have. Everyone is too busy concentrating on the negative news, the crap in the middle.

Yes, that’s what it really is – shit sandwich. At least that’s what it tastes like.

Let’s face it. Difficult conversations suck. They aren’t fun to have. But they are sometimes necessary. A much better strategy is to face the difficult conversation directly. Say what needs to be said. Don’t avoid it. And don’t be a dick about how you deliver the message – be a human being. You can say nice things, too, as long as they are true. Most important, though, is to create a space for a conversation rather than just “delivering the news” – that is if you really want to make the effort to make a difference.

An unintended consequence (we don’t like these!) of a shit – er, compliment – sandwich is that the good stuff of the compliments is watered down. The positive message loses it’s power. And let’s face it, positive messages need more power, not less. We can accomplish so much more with true honey…unless, of course, all you want to do is attract flies.

We CAN end a difficult conversation on a positive note – not with a compliment, but with an expression of humanity: an offer of support or actions; a statement of trust, empathy, compassion, caring or belief in the other person; making sure they’re okay, compromising…the list of truly positive things we can do is a pretty long list.

Truth: Well, that’s the word, right? Truth. Tell the truth. Have a conversation. A compliment sandwich gets to taste like shit when it’s served up often. We don’t try to hide the difficult truth in fluff, and we sure don’t want to dilute the power of positive messaging.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!

Love and light,


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