Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Divine Compliment Sandwich?

Have you heard of a "compliment sandwich" or "feedback sandwich"? Here's a snarky definition from the Urban Dictionary:
When someone tries to ease the blow of a criticism by delivering it between two insincere compliments.
Scot: "Liza, I love your hair. Your work sucks. Where did you get that sweater?"
Liza: Thanks for the compliment sandwich, Scot.
This can be seen as an insincere, beating-around-the-bush approach to managing/manipulating people, but it also has a grain of truth in it. In work-related and private relationships I think we do need to make sure that we don't just criticize people all the time. We also need to sincerely acknowledge people for what they're doing right.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I recently read the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 and saw a similar pattern in the way the letters were written. Take a look at the structure of the first letter.
[Introduction / Who the Letter is From]
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, "These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

[Compliment(s) / Acknowledgment of What They're Doing Right]
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

[Criticism / Explanation of Consequences / Explanation of What to Do]
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

[Second Acknowledgment of What They're Doing Right]
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

[End / Explanation of Reward]
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (Revelation 2:1-7)
These same basic elements are in all the letters. Can we consider this the Divine approach to delivering criticism?

As a proto-priest/pastor it seems important to me to remember when I'm preaching or counseling to not just focus on people's problems but also talk about what people need to do to deal with the problem, what rewards they'll receive if they do, and what people are already doing right. After making some bad decisions some people lose hope of ever being good people and so don't think it's worth trying; but the loud and clear message of the letters to the 7 churches is that everyone has something going for them and everyone can change.

3 comments:

Erik said...

I like this thought, Malcolm. Thank you. I'm struck that it is especially true in the letter to the Ephesians -- people who are prickly intellectually. To the Smyrnans -- more heart oriented people in the inner meaning -- the first comment is more of an emotional affirmation: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer." Sounds more like emotional support than a sandwich of good thoughts around a challenge.

My thought is that it would be useful to study the various churches to see the approach the Lord takes to each depending on their spiritual state.

In all except one the Lord says something good about the group first, but He doesn't always say something good after, other than offering the reward, so again it'd be interesting to see those who need the support after and those who simply need to be told "Go to it -- here's what you get if you do."

Derrick Lumsden said...

Malcolm, great insight.

Erik, that's also a great insight and a challenge. A challenge not only to remember to follow the divine compliment sandwich, but to to figure out what their state is.

Good stuff.

Beaming Unicorn said...

Thanks, Malcolm, I appreciate this reminder to couch my concerns in love.

Isaac