I-Statements

Accepting responsibility for your feelings is one of the most important communication skills you can acquire.  A good rule of thumb is: "If you have a problem, make an I-Statement.  Instead, we tend to express feelings and opinions without assuming responsibility for them.  We tend to hide behind blaming others for making us feel the way we do, claiming "it” is responsible, or claiming "we” all feel this way.

It is important to be aware that personal opinions sound like facts when one uses a form of "am" or "is," such as "you are...," "I am...," "it is..." and so on.  Furthermore, in addition to sounding factual, such statements imply the whole person is a certain way and will be forever. Example: "You are selfish" is a pronouncement which implies that there are no unselfish traits anywhere in the person's personality--and that the entire person will stay that way forever.  This is probably untrue; it is an over-generalization.  It would be much more accurate and effective to say, "I resent it when you make plans for the entire family without asking what the rest of us want to do."

I-Statements consist of a description of how you feel, an indication of the conditions under which you feel that way, and why those conditions cause your emotions.  I-Statements take this form: "I feel(State your emotion) when you.(describe their behavior or under what conditions you feel this way) because… (explain why their behavior or the conditions cause you to feel this way).

Clearly, giving an I-Statement is more constructive than commanding, threatening, moralizing, judging, ultimatums, mind-reading or other behaviors that create defensiveness.  However, this is not an easy concept to grasp.  The pronoun "you" is used all the time and many uses are not bad.  The problem is we often state personal opinions as facts and over-generalizations are implied by forms of the verb "to be," like "are," "is," "am" and so on.  Read the You-Statements below to become aware of the ways we use "you."

               1.                           Blaming:                                "You make me so mad."

               2.                           Judging or labeling:             "You are an inconsiderate, arrogant creep."

               3.                           Accusing:                               "You don't give a damn about me!"

               4.                           Ordering:                                "You shut up!"

               5.                           Questioning:                          "Are you always this flirtatious?"

               6.                           Arguing:                                 "You don't know what you are talking about."

               7.                           Sarcasm:                               "Of course, you are an expert!"

               8.                           Approving:                             "You are wonderful." "You are attractive."

               9.                           Disapproval:                          "You are terrible."

           10.                           Threatening:                          "You had better..."

           11.                           Moralizing:                             "You ought to ..."

           12.                           Treating:                                "You need to rest and..."

           13.                           Supporting:                            "It will get better."

           14.                           Analyzing:                              "You can't stand to leave your mother!"


I-Statements have Three Parts

1.      Emotion: “I feel…” (state your emotion): It is a self-disclosure, referring to "I" and it expresses a feeling.

a.      The emotion or feeling must be expressed by saying, “I feel…”

§         “I feel like…” is not a statement of emotion

§         “I feel like you…”.is not a statement of emotion

§         “You make me feel…” blames the other for your emotion

§         “It makes me feel…” blames “it” for your emotion

b.      Follow this link for a List of Emotions

2.      Behavior: “When you…” (describe their behavior or under what conditions you feel this way)

a.      Describe the other person's observable behavior or describe the conditions that are related to your feelings

b.      State the facts objectively without opinions, assumptions, criticisms, commanding, threatening, moralizing, judging, ultimatums, mind-reading or other behaviors that create defensiveness

3.      Why: “Because…” (explain why those conditions or their behavior cause you to feel this way).

a.      Explain why you feel this emotion when the other person does that behavior or when you are under these conditions

b.      The reason why you feel the way you do is often due to one or more of the following:

§         How you interpret their behavior (intent or meaning)

§         The tangible & concrete effect their behavior has on you, them, or others (do not repeat your feelings).

Benefits of I-Statements

            1.      Avoids blaming others for your emotions

            2.      Accurate and less hostile way to express a feeling or an emotion you’re experiencing

            3.      Most appropriate way to inform someone that their behavior is causing a problem

            4.      Minimizes making the other person feel guilty, put-down, & resentful

I-Statement Cautions

            1.      According to Thomas Gordon, the founder of Gordon Training International, “I-Language won’t work in families where the parents tend to not listen when their children have problems.  If you want your kids to listen to you when you have a problem, they must feel that you listen to them when they have a problem.  I-Language must be seen as a direct appeal for help.  Ask if the child would be willing to help you.”

            2.      I-Statements are not a guarantee that others or conditions will change to accommodate you.


Examples of I-Statements

                  1.      I feel annoyed (feelings) when you leave your clothes on the floor instead of putting them in the hamper (behavior), because then I have to pick them up to keep the house neat (why).

                  2.      I feel angry (feelings) when you leave your dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher (behavior), because I get the impression you expect me to clean-up after you and that is not my expectation of our relationship (why).

                  3.      I feel upset (feelings) when you raise your voice at me (behavior) because I don’t want to be in a relationship where yelling is the norm.

 

BEHAVIOR

Suggestions for expressing more clearly:

FACTS ONLY

What are you seeing, hearing or otherwise sensing?

A. Begin by stating what you actually see or hear rather than how you feel about it or what you think of it.

B. Describe specific actions observed, avoid generalizing such as "you always..." or "you never..."

C. Be specific about place, time, color, texture, position and how often.

D. Describe rather than diagnose. Avoid words that label or judge the actions you observe such as "slimy," "lousy," "neurotic," etc..

E. Avoid descriptions of a situation that imply emotions without actually stating them, such as "totally disgusting" and "horrible." State your feelings explicitly in Emotions (described next).

For example: "When I saw the big coffee stain on the rug..."

is easier to hear and understand than

"When you ruined my day, as always, with your slimy, stinking, totally disgusting, rotten antics..."

 


 

FEELINGS

Suggestions for expressing more clearly:

What emotions are you feeling?

A. Use specific emotion describers such as "I feel..." glad, angry, delighted, sad, afraid, resentful, embarrassed, calm, enthusiastic, fearful, manic, depressed, happy, etc.

B. Avoid feeling words that imply the action of another person: "I feel.., ignored, manipulated, mistreated, neglected, rejected, dominated, abandoned, used, cheated (etc.)"

Notice how these words indirectly blame the listener for the speaker's emotions. Translate "implied blame" words into an explicitly named emotion.

For example: "I am feeling totally ignored by you"

probably means

"I am feeling really sad (or angry) because I want you to pay more attention to me, (spend more time with me, etc.)..."

 

 

Why

Suggestions for expressing more clearly:

What interpretations, wants, needs, memories or anticipations of yours support those feelings? 

Or what tangible, concrete effects or consequences were experienced?

A. Express the interpretations, hopes, understandings and associations that support your feelings:

... because I imagine that... ... because I see that as...

... because I remember how... ... because I take that to mean ...

instead of ... because YOU ...(did, said, did not, etc.)


B. There are often tangible, concrete consequences or effects that need to be explained:

... because I wanted ... ... because I would have liked ...

... because I was hoping that... ... because I needed ...

instead of ... because YOU ...(did, said, did not, etc.)