I Statements - Examples and Exercises in Communication

by cazort

I statements, or I messages, are a form of communicating with many benefits, such as conveying respect, reducing conflict, and being more persuasive.

This page is about the use of "I statements", also called "I-messages".

Here I will show you how to use I statements to convey respect to people with differing opinions, to minimize conflict, to be more assertive, and to be more persuasive. Below you will find concrete examples and exercises that you can use to challenge yourself to communicate in more effective ways.

The way of communicating expressed here can both help you and help others you are interacting with.

This page communicates my personal ideas, which are heavily influenced by Why This Way, as well as being influenced by Nonviolent Communication; and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Examples of Why I Statements are Important

I statements help to respect others' boundaries and perspectives.

Just as invading someone's personal space without their consent is likely to make them uncomfortable, your use of language can overstep boundaries, making people uncomfortable and defensive.

Here are some examples of statements that could be likely to overstep boundaries and make people defensive:

  • You're wrong. - If a person just told you something, they usually don't think that what they said was wrong. Telling them that they're wrong, even if you are very confident that you are correct, is likely to come across as abrasive. The more strongly the person believes what they said, and the more aggressively you accused them of being wrong, the more likely they will be to take offence.
  • You said that but you didn't mean it. - This sort of statement is highly likely to offend, because it attributes a negative or dishonest intention to the person. It often elicits a feeling that you are not listening to the person or that you are demonizing them or viewing them in a negative light.
  • You should do it this way. - People don't like being told what to do, and should statements like this do exactly that. If you want to be persuasive, you would do better to explain to someone why you want them to do something.
Do you like being told you're wrong, when you feel very certain that what you said is correct or true?
Do you like being told that you didn't mean something that you said?

Exercises: Practice These Ideas

Work with the ideas above to learn them thoroughly.

1. Think of and write down some statements that people have made to you that offended you, or that you feel overstepped a boundary.

2. Now write down some things that you have said which have offended other people.

So, how can you reword these statements using I statements, to become both more respectful and more persuasive? Read on!

Learn better by watching and listening?

Here is a video I made about I statements, particularly in the context of discussions where people have differing viewpoints.

Rewording Using I Statements

Turning the negative comments above into more positive ones!
  • No, you're wrong. --> "I don't agree with that." or "I'm not sure I agree with that." - These statements takes responsibility for the disagreement, stating that your opinion is different without making a global statement about fact. The inclusion of language expressing uncertainty "I'm not sure" further softens the statement, communicating that you are open to seeing different perspectives and discussing the point. At the same time, you are being assertive about the fact that you do not agree, and you are halting the conversation's progression to work out the point of disagreement before continuing.
  • You said that but you didn't mean it. --> "I'm having trouble believing it when you say [fill-in-the-blank]" - Although this statement may still come across as confrontational, it takes greater responsibility for your lack of belief, and it avoids a directly accusatory tone. It also repeats what the person said back to you, which communicates that you are listening and heard and understood what they said. In many cases, you may want to go even further and start by repeating what you heard, and waiting before you share your reservations. For example: "So you are saying [fill-in-the-blank]?"  ... pause to think ... "I still feel uncertain because..." This communicates that you're reflecting on what the person said, but it is still expressing your reservations or doubts about what the person is saying.
  • You should do it this way. --> "If I were you, I would do it this way, because..." or "I would really like you to do it this way, because..." or "I think this would be a better way to do it, because..." - All of these avoid the vague and potentially bossy-sounding should statement, and they all provide extra reasoning after the "because...", so as to be more persuasive. The first approach, starting "If I were you..." communicates your own personal approach and gives advice in a "take it or leave it" kind of way, showing respect for the other person's judgment, whereas the second "I would really like you to do it..." communicates your own personal desires or wishes. The last approach, "I think this would be a better way..." is a good way to introduce clear practical reasons for doing something a particular way.

These are a few examples of how you can use I statements to respect people's viewpoints when they differ from your own. With effort, you can think up some of your own examples.

If you experiment with communicating in these ways, you will be likely to find that you are able to discuss controversial and emotionally-charged topics without upsetting people as much, and you may also find that you become much more persuasive when interacting with people who have differing views.

Exercise - Reword Your Previous Examples

Take the statements you wrote down above, and try rewording them as explained here.

Beware: How NOT To Use I Statements

Using I statements effectively involves more than just including "I".

I statements, like many things in life, are something that can be used effectively or poorly. It is important to not just reword your statements using the word "I', but rather, to make sure to embrace the spirit of respectfulness and positivity when using them.

Think about statements like this:

  • I think that you're an idiot.
  • I think you're a liar.
  • I want you to shut up.

These are unlikely to have the desired effect of making people comfortable or being more persuasive. Do these sound ridiculous? It might seem that way now, when you're thinking straight, but when people get into a heated discussion, or when they are angry or take offence at something that people said, they can fall into patterns of making statements like this more easily.

If you want I statements to be effective, make sure to embrace the spirit behind them, like in the examples explained above, rather than just including the word "I"; in your sentences.  Keep it positive!

Asking For What You Want: "I Want..."

A simple and powerful way to use I statements to be assertive!

Asking for what you want is a key aspect of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assertiveness">assertiveness</a>, but I personally also find it to be a key aspect of respectful communication as well. If you are indirect about what you want, it can inconvenience others as they try to guess what you are looking for (often unsuccessfully). Asking directly eliminates ambiguity, which is considerate to the listener.

Some examples:

  • I'm upset about some issues in our relationship, and I want to talk to you about them and resolve them because I like you a lot and I want to stay together and enjoy being with you without worrying about these things. --- A great way to remove any sort of doubt in a relationship...you start the conversation by emphasizing that you want to stay together and want to resolve the issue, so the other person doesn't have to start worrying about this.
  • I was very troubled by how this incident was handled, and I want a written response so I can be assured that it won't happen again. --- This statement is good because it communicates exactly what you are looking for. Often, when people are upset, it is not clear exactly what they want in order to be satisfied.
  • I want to speak with someone who has the authority and knowledge to answer these questions. --- If you're talking to a customer service representative, or other person who doesn't have the knowledge or authority to address your problem, this cuts to the key business, and it lets them know that you aren't interested in wasting anyone's time, but that you want your question resolved.

Asking directly for what you want is useful in close relationships, in the workplace, in school, and when dealing with businesses, stores, and corporations. It is useful anywhere other people are involved. You won't always get exactly what you want, but it usually doesn't hurt to ask.

You can also ask a direct question. For example, in the third case above:

"Can you refer me to someone who can help solve this problem?" - People dont like to say no, and will be more likely to either solve your problem or refer you to someone who can, if you ask directly like this.

Exercises

1. Think of and write down at least three situations that have upset you some time recently in your life.

2. Reflect on what you want from other people in these situations.

3. Write down I statements in which you tell people what you want. First start with a simple statement, and then write a question in which you ask someone if they can give you what you want.

4. Go out into the world and ask people for something that you want!

Did you find this page helpful, gaining new insights into communication?

More on Respectful Communication

Like this page? Explore some of my pages relating to respectful communication.
Why This Way is a consensus-based organization and belief system which may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition of religion.
The idea of hurting someone's feelings is often emphasized to kids, but it can be problematic and leave people open to emotional manipulation
How to converse respectfully about religion, how to share your religious beliefs in a respectful way that will help others to feel comfortable.
Updated: 09/29/2014, cazort
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
2

Questions? Comments? Feedback?


   Login
RuthCox on 09/29/2014

Although I am familiar with much of what you share here I still find it useful and informative. As with many familiar things, gentle reminders are always welcome, and a refresher course in respectful communication skills doesn't hurt me a bit.

cazort on 09/25/2014

Thank you! I think it's interesting that you say the suggestions are self-explanatory.

I've noticed that people tend to naturally have a wide range of communication styles, and there are some people who naturally tend to communicate in ways that use I statements more naturally, but there are also those who do not.

I even think there are some ways in which people can be taught to write in ways that state assertions as fact, rather than as opinion, because it's presented as a "stronger" way of writing...and I wonder if this can influence people's communication habits negatively.

I know, in my case, communicating respectfully did not come naturally to me; it was something I had to learn, and I think this may have been due to having a lot of examples in my life of people who talked about certain topics (especially political ones, but sometimes personal ones too) with great certainty. When I learned this stuff, it was somewhat of a breakthrough to me.

WriterArtist on 09/25/2014

This is a good lesson in using words that do not sound correct especially in a fit of rage.The suggestions are self explanatory.

You might also like

Parent Estrangement-A Hidden Epidemic

"We can welcome a trial and use it for better understanding. Or, we can becom...

What Is Intimacy Anorexia And How It Tears Marriages Apart

Signs of Intimacy Anorexia and how it affects marriages from my personal jour...


Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...
Error!