Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“The Communication Sandwich” by Garris Elkins

I will never forget the impact our eighth grade graduation speaker had on my young and developing life.  The impact was not positive.  I only remember the beginning words of his opening sentence.  To his credit, he may have said more, but I shut down and became emotionally deaf when I heard his first words.

The speaker said, “You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today.”  I’m sure he must have said something more like, “You will only remain the same if you let yourself” or “Change is possible if you put your mind into it” or some other encouraging word – at least I hope he did.  All that I remember were his first words, “You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today.”

The person I was the day of my eighth grade graduation was not all that impressive. I felt pudgy and undeveloped. I was leaving boyhood and entering my early teens.  I had a few pimples and I still combed my hair the way my mom liked.  I had yet to discover who I was.  The person I was that day wasn’t sure he would ever get a date with a girl or drive a car or have any kind of success in life.  I was caught up in all the inferior feelings my developing hormones were producing.

Over the years, I have come to realize how important it is to begin our conversations with words of hope.  Most of us hear the first thing someone says and if it is positive, it gives us a healthy context to hear what might follow.

I wonder what would have happened if our graduation speaker would have started his message with something like this – “You have all the potential in the world to become anything you desire.”  If our graduation speaker had said those words first maybe that really insecure kid named Garris Elkins, sitting in his assigned seat in row 8, would have felt better about the possibilities of his emerging future.

What if I remembered words like these, “You have all the potential in the world to become anything you desire. You kids will not really change in the future – you will most likely remain the same person you are today, unless you see yourself for the awesome person you are now, looking forward to a bright and hopeful future.” 

This preferred way of communication actually has a name.  It is called, “The Communication Sandwich.”  I first heard of this about 25 years ago from a friend of mine, Jared Roth. I don’t know if the concept was original with Jared, but that was the first time I heard it.

Jared was speaking in our church when he shared how to speak a challenging word to someone.  Jared said to place the hard meaty thing that needs to be said between two slices of encouragement.  In other words make a sandwich to house the challenge. 

I have spent the last 25 years working in a spiritual delicatessen building sandwiches.  Whenever I need to bring a challenge to someone, I make sure to bring twice the amount of encouragement as I do challenge, so that what I have to share can be digested. I put the tough word between slices of hope and destiny before I ask the person to take a bite of our conversation. If I don’t have all these ingredients, I am not yet ready to assemble the sandwich and enter the conversation.

The next time you have a challenging word to share with someone, remember, it is not difficult to throw out a tough word.  It does, however, take time and a willing ear to allow God to give you the slices of encouragement to wrap around what you need to say.  After doing this so many times, I have come to realize it has been the slices of encouragement towards hope and destiny that have had the greatest impact on people– even more than the challenge I thought I needed to bring.

When people are communicated with in this way they leave our challenging conversations feeling empowered.  If we neglect to build the Conversation Sandwich, people will leave our conversations feeling like I did that day listening to a graduation speaker throwing out a tough piece of meat without the slices of hope and destiny that would have changed everything.

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