The Complaint Sandwich

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Communication, Self Esteem

self esteem anxiety assertiveness guilt resentmentsRather than feeling resentments about someone, rather than nagging or yelling, learn to deliver bad news in a complaint sandwich. If you have a parent, a child, a friend, or co-worker, you have probably run into situations where you’ve had a complaint or criticism about them. This is where a lot of people feel anxiety. You need to deliver some bad news, negative feedback, or *helpful* advice. This is a part of assertiveness training–expressing a complaint. If you really want the other person to listen to what you have to say, you ought to package it in a complaint sandwich. You’ll want to eliminate the possibility of feeling guilt about the conversation later, so practice what you have to say before you say it. Here’s how it works.


The bottom piece of bread is what you like or admire. Examples:

To your son: “I liked the way that you picked up all your toys and put them in the toy chest. Thanks for doing that.”

To your spouse: “Thanks for picking me up from work. I appreciate the fact that you had to go out of your way to do that for me.”

To your co-worker: “You did a nice job on that project. It looks terrific!”

The Complaint

Ready? We’re now at the difficult part, the meat in the middle–the negative feedback or complaint.

To your son: “I noticed that all your dirty clothes are under your bed. Would you please put those in the hamper?”

To your spouse: “I’ve been waiting for forty-five minutes and wondering if I told you the wrong time.” (You didn’t.)

To your co-worker: “I wish you had included me in the process since we were asked to do it together.”


You always put the praise on the end, too. This is the top piece of bread in the sandwich. Without doing this, you run the risk of offending the person or having them not hear you at all.

To your son: “I’m so proud of you. You’ve come a long way.”

To your spouse: “However, I really appreciate the fact that you came to get me. Thanks so much for doing that.”

To your co-worker: “But you did a really nice job on it and deserve all the recognition for doing this.”

Get the idea? Find a way to put this little complaint sandwich in use today. You’ll feel better about yourself when you do this. Also, you’ll bolster the self esteem of your listeners. Give it a try!

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