As Valentine’s Day approaches, we are hyper-focused on the relationships in our lives. A breakdown in communication often leads to troubles in paradise. “I” statements are a simple solution that can lead to happier and healthier communication. So what are “I” statements and what makes them so effective?
An “I” statement is a style of communication that focuses on your feelings or beliefs rather than the characteristics you attribute to another person. They allow you to take ownership of your feelings rather than imply they are caused by someone else. “I “statements allow you to confront a person’s behavior without putting them on the defensive. They are in contrast to “You” statements, which are often accusatory or cast blame. For example, your partner may often come home later than expected. This is the perfect opportunity for an “I” statement: “I worry that something has happened to you when you come home late and would appreciate if you would let me know beforehand.” When compared to “you” statements like “Why are you always late?” or “You are never home on time.” There is a clear difference. A simple formula you can use to get started is:
I feel (state your feelings), when (state the undesired behavior you wish to stop), because (state why you feel the way you do) and (state future expectations and or future consequences).
As you master “I” statements and become more comfortable, there won’t be a need for such structured statements.
So by now you are probably wondering, will such a small difference really be that effective? The answer is YES!! “I” statements work for many reasons but here are few of the biggies:
1.They are not blaming or accusatory
“I” statements focus on YOUR feelings about your partner’s behavior. When used correctly, they give you the opportunity to express those feelings in a less aggressive way. When we start sentences off with “You” what follows is often blaming or accusatory. (I.e. You always come home late or You are so irresponsible) “You” statements attack a person and put them on the defensive. The person on the receiving end often shuts down and refuses to listen to anything after what they perceive as an attack.
2. They focus on behaviors rather than the person
If you focus on a person’s behavior rather than the person you are more likely to secure change. A person can change behaviors but they cannot change themselves. “I” statements do just that. For example, you want your partner to wash their dishes
“I” statement: I would like for you to wash your dishes; it bothers me when I see them gathering mold in the sink.
“You” statement: You’re such a slob; you never clean up after yourself.
If you go with the “you“ statement , you will likely receive a defensive response: “I’m a slob? You’re the slob. Let’s talk about when you…” Now you are in an argument about who is messier rather than addressing the problem that is bothering you.
3.They focus on facts not opinions
When using “I” statements, you focus your feedback on what you actually observe rather than what you think the behavior means. “You came home late, without calling, four times this week” is an observation. “You must not care about me because you are never home on time” is an opinion and an inference. The inference moves the conversation from the behavior to the partner’s caring. Another thing to point out in that example is the observation is based on a continuum. Notice it mentions specifically how many times their partner came home late; rather than the opinion which uses the word never. Using “always” and “never” often is an exaggeration of the truth. Again, instead of the person responding in a discussion about the behavior, the conversation will be misdirected into proving you wrong with at least one time their behavior contradicts what you are claiming.
Other tips when using “I” statements:
- Share ideas or offer alternatives rather than giving advice
- Value your response to the recipient and how they will react to it
- Don’t overload your partner with more information than they can process
- Respond in an appropriate time and place