Anger Management Using the Compliment Sandwich
by Dr. Lyle Becourtney
Do you ever find yourself getting more and more angry and
frustrated while trying to explain what is bothering you?
Perhaps you feel like others are not really listening to you or
trying to understand things from your perspective. In such
circumstances, you may end up raising your voice or becoming
verbally or even physically abusive. Unfortunately, responding
in this manner usually decreases your chances of being
listened to with empathy and compassion.
Another maladaptive way of handling your feelings, perhaps out
of fear of losing control, is to work extra hard at keeping
everything bottled up inside. What happens here is similar to
what happens when a balloon keeps filling up with more and
more air. The balloon will expand as far as it can and then
However, if the balloon periodically releases some of its air, the
likelihood is it will never reach that point of popping. Similarly, a
person who uses assertive communication will be much less
likely to become explosive. As one of the eight core anger
management techniques, assertive communication involves
honestly and effectively communicating your feelings while
doing so in a nonhostile fashion.
Perhaps most challenging when using assertive communication
is to express your feelings without the other person becoming
angry or defensive. What makes this so difficult is that people,
for the most part, do not like to be criticized. Telling somebody
what they did wrong, what you do not like about their behavior,
or how they hurt your feelings can very easily trigger a negative
One of the most effective ways of using assertive
communication is by using a technique known as the
Compliment Sandwich. The meat of the sandwich (your
complaint, criticism, or concern) is surrounded by two pieces of
bread (compliments or positive feedback). In order to minimize
defensiveness, you would begin with a compliment (the first
piece of bread), then present the main message that you are
trying to communicate (the meat), and then finish with another
compliment (the second piece of bread).
To help illustrate, here is an example of the Compliment
I have always considered you to be one of my best
friends (first compliment / positive feedback).
So when I heard that you were talking behind my back, I
felt really hurt. What I need is for you to talk to me
directly and not get others involved (critical feedback).
You have always been there for me in the past and I
know I can still count on you (second compliment /
As you can see in the aforementioned example, the Compliment
Sandwich made it possible for an important communication to
be made in a nonhostile manner. By opening and closing with
positive feedback, a friendly tone was set and an important
message was able to be conveyed. Rather than aggressively
attack the other person and risk making matters worse or bottle
things up and become potentially explosive, this type of
communication allows one to get things off his or her chest
without putting the other person on the defensive.
There are, however, a few key suggestions for using the
Compliment Sandwich effectively. First, it is essential that your
praise be genuine. As challenging as it may seem with some of
the more difficult people in your life, you should be able to think
of at least two things to say that are both complimentary and
sincere. It may take some extra thought on your part, but there
is almost always something positive that you can say.
It is also important to avoid overuse of this technique so that
your words do not appear to be contrived. Finally, your
compliments should in some way be related to the critical
message that you are trying to convey. This is necessary in
order for the conversation to flow smoothly and to feel genuine.
Thus, the example provided earlier would lose its effectiveness
if the compliments seemed to be out of left field (e.g., “I have
always admired your dancing ability.” and “You are such a
terrific football player.”). These compliments may be genuine,
but have absolutely nothing to do with your friend talking behind
By properly using anger management techniques such as the
Compliment Sandwich, one can minimize the potential cost of
anger. Health problems, impaired self-esteem, damaged
relationships, emotional scarring of one’s children, and a drop
in productivity at work are all potential outcomes of uncontrolled
anger. On the other hand, when channeled properly, anger
can have many benefits.
So the next time someone hurts your feelings or offends you,
instead of bottling things up or exploding, why not try something
new and give a compliment sandwich? You might be pleasantly
surprised by the results.
Dr. Lyle Becourtney, a New York State Licensed Psychologist
and Certified Anger Management Professional, has a private
office in Blauvelt, NY in Rockland County. His anger
management programs provide an excellent opportunity for
teens and adults to learn new anger management skills and
In addition to weekly anger management classes and
individual and couples therapy, Dr. Becourtney trains other
mental health professionals and parents on how to implement a
positive parenting program in the home.
Visit Dr. Becourtney's online anger management store
where you can sign up for a 10-hour online anger management
course or purchase other great anger management products
including books, home study courses, CDs, and DVDs.
Copyright © 2007 Dr. Lyle Becourtney,
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