Solution Sandwich: How to Have Difficult Conversations




About: I have a degree in Electronics Engineering and various certifications in all kinds of internet programming languages. Professionally, I have over 20 years of experience in various roles including an electron...

A basic life skill is being able to have difficult conversations with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and even perfect strangers ;-)

I want to share a technique for having difficult conversations, which for some people, even talking to anyone is challenging. The "Solution Sandwich" which oddly enough, I learned while in a recovery program for eating disorders. If you or a friend struggles with an eating disorder, please don't wait 20 years like I did to ask for help.

The technique described here has been used by many therapists, professionals, businesses and anyone else who wants to learn how to better communicate with their fellow human beings.

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Step 1: White Bread

Rather than empty and low in nutrients, think of a hearty bread and start with...

a genuine statement of empathy or appreciation for the person you are talking to

e.g. I understand how hard it must be to deal with this situation,

or: I appreciate your role in my life so much

Step 2: Meat

I feel (honest feelings, like sad, angry, afraid, guilty) – this builds intimacy and explains reason for request

I need – state what it is you need

Would you please – ask them as specifically as you are able to for the part they might do in meeting your need.

e.g. I feelafraid that I am going to hurt your feelings by telling you this but I feelsad right now and I need some time to myself. Would you please forgive me if I cancel our plans for this weekend?

Or: I feelangry that the kitchen is a mess. I need help in keeping our home neat. Would you please pick 2 nights a week that you can clean up after dinner?

Or: I feelguilty that I have not been able to help as much around here as I used to. I needto apologize for so much falling on you. Would you please help me brainstorm about what I am able to do that would help even out the load?

Step 3: White Bread

more honest empathy, perhaps an honest statement of appreciation for hearing your request.

e.g. Thank you for listening to me through this; it is so important to me that we understand each other and each other’s needs.

Step 4: Muscle

There are three levels of "muscle" you can use with a Solution Sandwich: 1, 2 and 3. One involves saying, I need. Two involves saying, I really need, and Three involves saying, I really need and if you do not, I will...then stating a consequence. Try not to let it get to level 3 by using the Solution Sandwich as soon as you've identified there is a problem.

Step 5: Practice Makes Permanent

If you practice enough, it is rumored, that you will automatically apply the solution sandwich when needed.

Now, I'm going back to practicing. So, go forth and be excellent to each other! :-)



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    12 Discussions


    4 years ago

    great piece of information. anything that ends in a "Bill and Ted" quote is most excellent.


    4 years ago

    Very good Instructable, thanks!


    4 years ago

    Great Instructable! Concise, specific, and instructions everyone can use. Please keep sharing. Thank you!


    4 years ago on Step 5

    Cheers. Excellent instructable. I'm in management so this will hopefully help me to get more out of my team.


    4 years ago

    some good advice. some people have a great deal of trouble expressing what they want and waste a lot of time being miserable instead.


    4 years ago on Step 5

    Maybe credit Marshall B. Rosenberg, who developed this method?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 5

    Thank your for taking the time to comment and share this helpful information. I feel hurt by the manner in which your comment implies that I am intentionally not crediting the source. Would you please consider how using terse rhetorical questions can be perceived as hostile. Thank you for letting me know of the source because I do like to give credit where credit is due. Again I am sharing something learned in therapy and not directly from the source.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Useful stuff it seems. I'd say, exchange the word but for the word and when possible, as the but is pretty much like saying forget what I said before, here's what I need.