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How to Effectively Use the “I Statement” to Avoid Conflict

It’s easy to point fingers when in a heated conversation. When you’re consumed by your emotions, you don’t feel the need to think twice before putting the blame on whoever you’re talking to. Saying things like, “You made this happen,” or “You messed up,” is a sure way to start an argument. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually right; you can hurt someone’s feelings by putting them on the spot. This article will teach you how properly using the “I statement” can help you avoid conflict with others.

Definition

American psychologist Thomas Gordon coined the term I Message in the 1960s while doing play therapy with children. I statement aka I Message is a form of sentence intended for asserting your thoughts without making any accusations. It’s also used to take ownership for your feelings rather than implying another person caused them. In constructive criticism, I statements enable you to express your opinion without using upsetting language. For instance, “I forgot to ask you for directions after you invited me to come,” is a better version of “You invited me so you should’ve given me the directions.”   

How to Use

An I statement transforms a risky sentence into one that’s more self-aware. It goes from confrontational to a meaningful, two-way conversation. You resist the urge to quarrel or directly point out the other person’s fault, and tell them instead the impact of their actions on you. You carefully make them realize what’s going on, showing them how the situation makes you feel (we’ll discuss some examples later); not letting them underestimate your perspective. Doing so clears up things, making the situation neither better nor worse. This way, you can finally have a real productive conversation.    

When to Use 

I messages are useful in any conversation when you want to convey your side of the story without appearing too demanding or threatening. Using an I statement also helps establish or reestablish healthy communication. Relationships can suffer big time with much use of “you” statements and less clarity in conversations. Even your reputation can be at stake if you don’t know how to communicate effectively with other people. I statements give you the opportunity to be heard without arousing someone’s defenses.

Difference Between You and I Statements

Whether you’re right or not, blaming someone using hurtful words only makes things worse. You statements hold the other person responsible. They, in turn, become defensive and resentful–making peace more unlikely to happen. On the other hand, I statements show personal accountability. You take responsibility for your part in the argument and show that you’re willing to listen and come to an agreement. You choose to compromise rather than fight to see who wins in the end. Using an I message is also a way of prioritizing your relationship with the person despite whatever discord you two have.  

Components of “I Statement”

Not all statements that begin with I are effective in avoiding conflict. For example, “I think you’re wrong,” and “I feel like you’re responsible for this,” are as negative as “You’re to blame.” Thomas Gordon said that to successfully use an I statement, your words should match your tone, facial expression, body language, and how you feel. This is his three-part I Message:

  • Non-blameful description of the listener’s behavior.
  • The effect of that behavior on the speaker.
  • The speaker’s feelings about that effect.

Gordon said that the listener is more likely to respond positively when you present your message this way.

Examples

When you use an I statement, you share your perspective without attacking the other person. You explain your side while being considerate of theirs. I statements allow you to open an honest dialogue in which you both can move toward a resolution. Here are some examples:

You StatementI Statement
You always give me the cold shoulder!I feel offended when you give me the cold shoulder.
You always make decisions without me.I’m honestly frustrated because you don’t consider my point of view first before you make a decision.
You don’t understand how hard it is to take on more workload.I need you to understand my inability to take on more workload.
Why do you always have things go your way? Now I’m going to miss this event again.Would you consider rescheduling our trip?
If you only stop yelling!Please speak calmly. I get anxious when you raise your voice.

Pros

I statements don’t only keep you from conflict, they can also lead to necessary change and even add warmth to your relationships. Strangers you encounter will find you pleasant and mature. Those who work with you will realize how genuine you are. You and your life partner will continue to build trust in each other. I statements can help improve any form of relationship as long as you know how to use them. What’s more, they can help you gain new connections and inspire others to put confidence in you. 

Cons

Despite the benefits of using it, an I statement also has its drawbacks. Often use of I can make you appear self-absorbed, especially in some cultures. Depending on factors such as a workplace environment or the country you’re in, I statements can give others a bad image of you. Some may even think you’re weak. Referring to yourself too much in a conversation might seem immature (you come off as incapable of understanding opinions that aren’t yours). You have to be careful not to use the I message in a manner that ruins your effort to politely voice out your real intention. 

All in all, correctly using the “I statement” in conversations is a good way to avoid rifts and misunderstandings. By addressing an issue with vulnerability instead of immediately blaming the other person, you can maintain respect and trust in your relationships. Whether it involves a colleague or a family member, expressing yourself well is essential. Practice using I statements effectively and you’ll be amazed how something so simple can make a huge difference in your social life.

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Written by Hannah Grace

Fighting both real and imaginary shadows everyday with music and words.

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