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  Communicating with “I” Statements

Good communication is necessary for building strong relationships, whether it is with spouses in a marriage, couples living together, family members, friends, or coworkers. Without effective communication, relationships can turn sour and lead to distrust, misunderstandings, resentment, hurt feelings and even separation or divorce. “I” statements are an effective means of communicating because they maintain a respectful attitude toward the receiver while enabling you to say how it is on your side, how what the other individual did or said affected you.

How do you construct “I” statements?

When constructing “I” statements avoid

  • using “that” or “like” because the statements “I feel that………..” or “I feel like……….” are expressions of thought and may be interpreted as opinion or judgment. The use of “I feel” should be followed by an accurate description such as “sad,” “glad,” “hurt,” “scared.”
  • using disguised “you” statements that include sentences that begin with “I feel that you……” or “I feel like you…...” “You” statements may put the listener into a one-down position.
  • accentuating negative feelings can cause defensiveness. Some individuals focus on communicating their negative feelings but fail to communicate positive ones. Expressions of joy, happiness, appreciation, etc. when a partner, family member or friend has done something that warrants these feelings is very important.
  • not expressing the intensity of your feelings may cause your message to be diluted . When feelings are minimized the impact may not be felt or understood by the receiver. It is important to match your message with the level of your feelings.
  • using “I” statements to express anger when you initially begin to use “I” statements. It usually requires practice to be skilled at constructing “I” statements and listening to anger without being offended. Statements starting with “I’m angry …..” can immediately put the receiver in a defensive position. In the early stages, it is exceedingly easy to slide into “you” statements when trying to express anger.
What are “You” statements and what reactions will they generate?

To better understand “I” statements, it is helpful to distinguish them from ‘You” statements. When reading the following list of “You” statements, imagine the feelings they would create in you if you heard them.

  • You could do better
  • You did not do that the right way
  • You should have known
  • You can’t
  • You are wrong
  • You should be ashamed

The above statements would likely make you feel angry, resistant, dejected, hurt, etc. “You” statements cause defensiveness and emotional resistance and it may cause the receiver to shut down and the partner will not hear another word.

What reactions do “I” statements generate?

Imagine what reaction the following “I” statements would create in you if you heard them.

  • I feel happy
  • I feel powerful
  • I feel insecure
  • I feel you are being thoughtful
  • I feel scared
  • I want to spend time with you
  • I’m upset

When you hear the above “I” statements you probably felt more connected with your partner and have more empathy than when “You” statements are used. “I’m feeling insecure” sounds better than “You’re making me insecure,” and “I’m feeling furious,” rather than “You’re infuriating. “ Even when a disagreement is emotionally-charged, “I” statements help individuals remain more connected.

When should “I” statements be used?

“I” statements should be used (a) when you need to confront someone about his/her behavior, (b) when you are troubled by the way someone is treating you, (c) when you have been put in a defensive position, (d) when you want to connect with someone and let them know us better. It is okay to use “You” statements periodically; however, our natural inclination is to use them 95% of the time. Instead, you might try to use them only 5% of the time and use “I” statements 95% of the time.

What steps should be followed to promote good communication?

The following steps facilitate stronger communication:

Step 1. Good Listening

  • Do not interrupt
  • Using your own words, repeat back to the person what they have just said
  • Confirm that you are listening by showing an attentive posture or saying, “yes,” “I hear you”
  • Do not give advice unless asked for

What I hear is . . . .

Did you say. . . .

So you think . . .

I understand that…..

Step 2. Use of “I” and not “You”

I feel . . .

When I. . .

My concern is . . . .

I want . . .

Step 3. Focus on the behavior rather than the person

When I’m shouted at, I . . . . .

When I’m sworn at, I . . . .

When I’m ignored, I . . . . .

When clothes are left on the floor, I . . . . .

When toys are left on the floor, I . . . .

Step 4. State how the behavior impacts you

I feel hurt when . . . .

I feel diminished when . . . .

I feel unappreciated when . . . .

I am concerned when. . . .

I get worried when . . . .

Step 5. State what you need to happen

I need to . . .

It would be helpful if . . . .

I would like . . . .

It would be nice if . . . .

When communicating with children a sixth step may include consequences. The type of consequence should be discussed beforehand. Another successful method for getting children to be responsible for their behavior is to use a conditional statement such as “If you do . . . .then. . . . “ or a time related condition “When . . .then. . . “

Consequence: If your bike is not put in the garage again, you will not be able to ride it for a week.

Conditional: If you will complete your homework every day without prompting then you can go to the movie on Saturday.

Time: When the toys are picked up then you can go play with your friend.

How can I become proficient at using “I” statements?

Practice, Practice, Practice. You might start by writing out “I” statements before trying them out verbally. Another suggestion is to get a friend to listen to you as the two of you engage in a discussion about hot topic subjects such as religion, politics, money, etc. Afterwards, ask yourself whether you were able to get your message across using “I” statements and whether you felt better about yourself. If you and your partner are having difficulty communicating, you might work with a counselor who can guide you through the “I”statement means of communicating.


www.compassioncoach.com. How and When to Use “I” Statements

www.humanpotentialcenter.org. “I” – Statements and How to Use Them

www.traumacentral.net Constructing I-Statements

By: Doug Klesius, M.S., LPC

Wellspring Counseling North Georgia

Dawsonville, GA 30534