What is an "I" Statement?

communication self-management social skills Jan 03, 2021

Can words impact your relationships?

Simply? Yes. Language is powerful and how we use language not only impacts how we are understood, but how we resolve conflicts with others. With language (verbal and non-verbal) being the primary vehicle of how we connect and communicate with others, it's no surprise that being mindful of the words we use makes a significant impact on the quality of our relationships.

What is an "I" Statement?

Thomas Gordon, a psychologist and pioneer in teaching communication and conflict resolution, developed the "I" statement in the 1960s. Most widely known for Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) (and then later for Teacher Effectiveness Training and Leader Effectiveness Training), Gordon created and taught others a complete system for building and maintaining effective relationships in the home, school, and work settings. At the core, he believed that using coercive power damaged relationships. Rather, he encouraged collaboration and win-win/no-lose resolutions, as acquired through using "I" statements, active listening, and behavior windows. 

In any relationship, confrontation is inevitable because feelings exist. Enter the "I" statement. "I" statements are assertions of the speaker's feelings, beliefs, and values, and typically start with "I" instead of "you." The intent of an "I" statement is to be assertive and promote ownership of one's feelings. When used correctly, "I" statements foster positive communication, helping people feel closer and more connected. This is opposed to using "you" statements, which can communicate aggression, sound accusatory, and place blame on the listener. 

"I" statements have three main components. First, they include a brief and non-blameful description of the behavior that the speaker finds unacceptable. Second, they include the feeling of the speaker. Third, they include the effect the behavior had on the speaker and potentially a request for what the speaker would like instead. Here are some examples of "I" and "You" statements. 

"I" Statement - "I feel overwhelmed and resentful when I'm left doing all of the housework after a long day at work. Can you help me do the dishes tonight? 

vs. 

"You" Statement - "Why are you so lazy? You are no help at all!" 

or 

"I" Statement - "I feel annoyed when you are yelling while I am on a phone call because it makes it hard to hear and concentrate. Can you use a quieter voice please?"

vs. 

"You" Statment - "You are being rude and inconsiderate. Stop it!"

How to use "I" Statements

Apart from helping us communicate more assertively and positively, "I" statements have another superpower. They give us a script to use when our feelings are big and we're not necessarily thinking straight. This "communication insurance" allows us to say how we feel without making things worse. 

So, what's the script? You can start with, "I feel (feeling word) when (behavior). Can you (request)?" Treat this like a Mad Lib, where you fill-in-the-blank with your personal information. Using this structure can help the listener become more aware of their behavior while prompting the speaker to take responsibility for their own feelings and thoughts. Just beware of the "you" statement in an "I" statement disguise. Even though the statement begins with an "I," it still has an accusatory tone ("I feel that you never listen!"). 

As with all skills, "I" statements take practice. If you feel you need more guided practice, check out our CleverParent subscription which gives parents access to Odyssey, a comprehensive and step-by-step program that builds social-emotional skills in parents and their children.

 

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