Honest communication using the formula likes, concerns, suggestions can make difficult conversations easier.

3 Words = One Simple Formula for Honest Communication

Marriage Dynamics InstituteCommunication, Connection, Marriage Health, Patience

Honest communication is essential for healthy relationships.

But in our hyper-polarized society, people say a lot of ugly things in the name of being honest.

And unkind words don’t bring out the best in anyone.

There is a simple formula, however, that is useful for evaluating ideas and providing feedback in all kinds of situations. It’s helpful in business settings when you are trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. And this formula is equally handy in relationships, especially when things need to be said, but may be a little hard to hear.

The formula is made up of three words that when used together can guide helpful, honest conversations about just about anything.

What are these magic words, you ask?

Likes. Concerns. Suggestions.

Simple. right?

Let’s break it down.


When you begin evaluating something, or someone, it’s always good to start with the positive. Human beings thrive in on positive interactions and affirmations. In fact, research shows that gratitude can actually rewire your brain in a good way. Expressing appreciation or gratitude benefits the person speaking, as well as those listening.

So when you gather with co-workers to talk about the latest change in company policy, or with your children to address behavior issues, or with your spouse to figure out schedules, it’s always good to start with something positive.


The second part of this communication formula is a good opportunity to ask questions or point out potential problems in a non-threatening way.

Raising concerns is not the same as venting a load of frustration about something or someone. It is not an opportunity to belittle or berate ideas or people.

It really is possible to speak the truth  and say you disagree or don’t like something  without being overwhelmingly negative.

Expressing concerns means using softer language and “I” statements. This is in contrast to “you” statements, which often sound like accusations.


New spproaches or suggestions for doing things differently can feel threatening.

But when feedback is set up gently by likes and concerns, suggestions for change will often be easier to hear, and have a more positive impact.

The formula is simple:

First: “I like….” or “I appreciate…”

Then: “But I am concerned that….” or “I’m not sure about…” or even “I don’t like….”

Finally: “What about trying…” or “Another way to approach this might be…” or “Could we perhaps…”

How this formula for honest communication can make a difference in your marriage.

Say one spouse is frustrated because the other routinely spendss long hours at work, and has little energy left for family interactions and responsibilities.

One way to vent this frustration would be to say something like this:

“You are never home! Don’t you care about your family? Your kids hardly see you. We neve have time alone that you aren’t falling asleep!”

Another way to address the situation might sound more like this:

“I noticed you are really working hard, and I appreciate all the energy you put into doing a good job and fulfilling your obligations. But I am concerned about the lack of time we have together as a family. Could we work togher on a plan that would allow for more family time, and perhaps a regular date night?”

Both approaches could be called honest communication.

But the big difference is those three little words.

Or how about this scenario.

One spouse is alarmed by the other’s spending on gifts for family and friends. So they might bring that up with a series of accusations. Or they could say something like this:

“I love your generous spirit and the way you make other people feel special with gifts. I am also a little concerned about meeting our savings goals for the future. What if we revisit the budget this week and work on a plan to accomplish both things?”

Likes. Concerns. Suggestions.

The next time you feel the need for some honest communication about issues in your marriage relationship, why not use the formula based on these three simple words.

Marriage Dynamics Institute offers courses and workshops that help couples learn healthy communication skills and more. Take The Marriage Quiz and find out which course or workshop is right for you.

About the Author

Marriage Dynamics Institute

Marriage Dynamics Institute (MDI) wants to cultivate healthy families, churches, and communities by helping create marriages full of joy, meaning, and purpose. Having served more than 75,000 couples since 1994, MDI offers workshops and seminars for marriages at every stage, including those in crisis.