Empowering Communication Tactic: How to Speak Your Message so it is HEARD–The Hamburger

Empowering communication--speak the message so it is heard--with clarity and kindness and without judgment

The Hamburger: “When you___, I feel___, because___.”

There are times when another person says or does something that is so outrageous that our natural reaction is to abruptly and rudely leave the room and maybe tell them off on our way out the door. Instead of stooping to that level of communication, the savvy communicator delivers a hamburger instead–an empowering communication tactic.  Speaking skills are learned, otherwise they would be called speaking talents.  The Hamburger is one of the best scripts you can learn for telling people about behavior they are exhibiting that is disturbing to you–and telling them in a way that your message is heard.

The Hamburger. Let’s talk about that. We all have people in our lives that do things that aggravate us. These are not necessarily difficult people.  They might be people who occasionally do things that trouble us.  We might tell them over and over how we feel about their behavior, and yet the behavior persists. For example, perhaps your boss has a habit of interrupting you and you’ve told him or her many times how much this bothers you. What do you do?

Empowering communication means speaking with authority, effectiveness, and kindness

Remember it is your job to state the message so that the other person hears it. Remember also that what you say and what is heard could be two different things. We’ve all had situations where we have called someone on his or her behavior over and over again but the behavior continues until there is some sort of miraculous breakthrough. At that point the other person finally seems to hear it and that person says, “Why haven’t you told me this before?” And we say, “Good grief. I have told you that a million times.” Yet the other person says, “I’ve never heard that before.”

The next time this happens–stop. Think. How did you just say it so that message finally penetrated the ears of the other person? Chances are you took out attacking language. You removed blame. You stopped projecting. You eliminated anger and emotions and you simplified the message in what is similar to the Hamburger. 

Most of the time when people don’t hear the message that we think we’re sending it’s because we add all sorts of extra words–especially during angry, emotional situations. We tend to cloud the message with too many words.

How many times have you argued with someone close to you and the heat grew stronger and the message became more and more obscured? Then you stopped fighting and you made up and then you repeated the message only to find it is heard with openness and acceptance? It was probably because in a mood of reconciliation you delivered it with grace and directness. You may have unknowingly wrapped the message in a hamburger. The hamburger helps you wrap the message in a specific verbal pattern–one that people willhear. It’s all about feelings and all about you. You’ll be shocked how simple it is when you break it down.

Here it is:

The hamburger has three parts:

Part 1 – When you___

Part 2 – I feel

Part 3 – Because___

To put it all together: “When you___I feel___because___.” We call it the hamburger because the meat of it, or the message, is “I feel” sandwiched inbetween “when you” and “because.”

Say this out-loud: “When you, I feel, because.” Again, “When you, I feel, because.” Again, “When you, I feel, because.” Here’s how it sounds:

“When you interrupt me like that I feel disrespected personally and professionally because I’ve worked really hard to get where I am and my opinions matter, as do yours.” Or “When you call me a baby in front of other people, I feel embarrassed and angry because it reminds me of when I was named-called as a child.”

It’s amazing how simple this is, but watch who says this. Very few people. Notice that those who do say this tend to be savvycommunicators to whom people listen. And when you’re dealing with powerful communicators, sometimes you have to strip a message down to its basics, as this technique does, and when you do, people tend to hear you. You’re not speaking with anger or blame. You’re speaking with your feelings. People will hear what you are saying because you’re saying nothing that causes them to raise their defenses. With their defenses down people hear much better.

By the way, the hamburger is also used as a Power phrase to replace the Danger phrases “You make me___” and “That makes me___” and  “It makes me___.” Remember those are Danger phrases. When you are about to say something such as, “You really make me angry when you say that,” instead try something such as, “When you say things like that I feel angry because I love you, and don’t say hurtful things like that to you.” Now THAT is empowering communication!  Never say, “You make me___” or, “That makes me___” EVER. It’s not true, and it’s really dis-empowering.


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Dan O’Connor has been leading the communication training industry for more than 20 years. Through his bestselling books, his #1 rated YouTube channel, and his online courses, Dan transforms the global conversation and the lives of countless individuals every day.

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