How to Coach the Coach: Make It a Sandwich

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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living well

Quality caregiving and care-accepting depend on effective communication between parties. It’s a delicate balancing act, especially when the caregiver is a spouse or family member. With traditional roles reversed, misunderstandings can happen and feelings easily get bruised. Giving care and accepting it is challenging enough without adding emotions into the mix. So, let me share a simple communication technique that’s worked for me, especially now that I live with ALS.

Build a ham sandwich

Have you ever have the experience of receiving a correction from a really good coach or teacher? They probably delivered the correction in a way that made you feel good about your efforts, helped you understand exactly what to do to improve, and felt positive about going back and trying again.

Most likely, your coach or teacher used what I call the “ham sandwich technique.” The name is an analogy for creating a sandwich with your words. The top piece of bread represents a positive statement or compliment, and the middle is the meat — the actual critique or correction. The bottom slice of bread represents finishing with a positive comment or sincere compliment.

To put it another way, think, compliment-correction-compliment.

Whether we’re the caregiver or on the receiving end of care, we’re all coaching each other. So how we say things is just as important as what we’re saying. Nobody wants to play for a coach who always yells, “You knucklehead! You’re doing it all wrong!” Or, “Why don’t you get it right? I’ve already told you a million times!”

We listen and perform better when we feel validated for our efforts.

For example, recently because of my ALS, I had to give up brewing my own morning coffee. I found myself having to coach my caregiver husband through the steps of my favorite ritual. Now, I happen to be super-picky about grinding the beans, the brew strength and the final mixture of milk and sugar. He, on the other hand, doesn’t drink coffee at all and hasn’t ever wanted to make it. You can easily see how this endeavor was an emotional disaster waiting to unfold!

But with patience, coaching, and lots of ham sandwiches on my part, I’m proud to say we emerged unscathed.

And by the end of our joint lesson, he actually turned me around! Using his own expertise in coaching, I was ham-sandwiched into admitting that a new Keurig coffee maker, using those little pre-measured pods, would make life much simpler for both of us. We now own one, use it, and both love it!

Make it a picnic!

Don’t limit your use of the complimentcorrectioncompliment method to just between patient and caregiver. It’s useful as well for when friends or strangers are trying to help out. Everyone appreciates positive feedback delivered in a kind manner. Be generous with your ham sandwiches — make it a picnic!

Be flexible

Know that sometimes it’s just not possible to take the time for the whole complimentcorrectioncompliment method. And that’s OK. For instance, safety concerns may require commands that are short and to the point. But whether it’s a time constraint, a safety matter, or even a case of short tempers, always acknowledge the other person’s efforts. Apologize, if necessary, and make amends.

Taking care of our well-being is a priority for caregivers as well as those living with ALS. The next time you need to give instructions or correct another about your care, try using my ham sandwich technique.

Let’s get back in the game of life and continue our journey of living well while living with ALS!


Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Charlie avatar


IIRC this author was diagnosed in 2011. Only just recently, we read, has using the coffee machine become impossible.
'Bravo' for this example of ultra-slow progression ALS.
The author has beaten the averages by a huge, huge margin.
This may also result in a longevity that sees effective treatments introduced.
We genuinely applaud this good fortune.
There but for fortune.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Thank you Charlie for your kind comment! can add one more candle to my 'ALS birthday cake' - - as I was diagnosed in 2010.
Which means I, like others living with ALS, am beginning another year of hope... and am ever thankful for my good fortune so far.

Kathryn Manginelli avatar

Kathryn Manginelli

I would love to use your technique if only I could speak coherently. It is very frustrating not being able to communicate.


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