Let’s Talk

Talking About Difficult Subjects
With Loved Ones

Q.  What are some ways to discuss difficult subjects with my family and friends?

A. Let’s Talk! We always want to share truth with others, but that is often challenging to do, to hear and receive at times. But, there is a mental outline I’d love to share with you as you make that brave choice.

Like many things, we learn best from mistakes. I had a doozie of a mistake years ago, but the outcome was The Sandwich outline the Lord gave me that I shall gladly pass along to you. The doozie was a parent-teacher conference that went south. Caving to time pressure, I shared with a mother the concerns I had for her child at a high rate of speed. Her response was, “Doesn’t he do anything right?” I was halted in my tracks, deeply grieved for my speedy delivery void of empathy. I knew better and apologized profusely to this mother. That night I cried out for God to show me a way to better share difficult material. The mental download was The Sandwich.

Picture a big burger. Let’s say the meat itself is the challenging message we want to give, but we first start the conversation with the top bun—sprinkled with as many sesame seeds (or honest kudos) as possible. Top bun language yields sincere sentences in soft words that will preface the difficult message. In the example of the parent-teacher conference, I should have said: “Your son has brought much joy to the classroom and is strong in these ways . . . and I also need to share a behavior of concern.”

Then, you slide down to the bottom bun and say something soft like, “but I know we can work together to make things better.” Then I should have asked if I could share the concern with her. Yes, that was the purpose for the meeting, but it is more respectful to ask. I have never had anyone refuse my sharing a “concern” when I asked if I could share it. That’s when you share the concern, or the meat of the sandwich, after which you can reiterate the bottom bun message.

This is just one way to share a hard comment in a loving but firm way. Said another way: tell the absolute truth in loving-kindness. The message is hard enough, but a smooth delivery helps it go down better!


For Deeper Reflection

Ephesians 4:15  “. . . but, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow in all aspects of
Him into Him . . . .”

1 Corinthians 13:1 – 7  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.




  1. Hooray for the “sandwich” method! It’s the best way I have ever heard to make palatable difficult issues. Thank you, Helen!

    • Thank you, Jan! You are a great student of practical truth and I sense your heart wanting His Ways… LOVE, Helen