The right way to complain

Winch recommends a formula called “the complaint sandwich”—a series of three statements calibrated to make people more receptive to changing their ways. The first “slice of bread” in the sandwich is a positive statement that will hopefully make the listener less defensive when the complaint itself arrives. For instance, in the case of a significant other who leaves dirty dishes in the sink, the complaint might start with something like, “You know, you are such a considerate partner in so many ways, and I love living with you.”

“The meat of the sandwich is the complaint itself,” Winch said. “And here’s the trick: The meat has to be lean. In other words, all you need is the one incident to make your point.” Don’t present a compendium of every offense; just stick to the specifics of the present situation. In the case of the dish-leaver, that might sound like this: “I saw that your cereal bowl is in the sink from this morning.”

Just as it’s important not to include a list of frustrating incidents at this stage, it’s also important not to include a generalization about someone’s basic nature.