Using “I statements” to Improve Interpersonal Communication

“I statements” are a way to take ownership of your reaction to a situation. This is a tool that invites discussion of difficult topics without immediately putting the other person on the defensive.  Generally “I statements” consist of these five parts, however, it may feel awkward to say them in this particular order.  Try varying the order if it will make the conversation flow more naturally for you.

I notice that ________________________________________________
(descriptive, observable details about the other person’s behavior, avoiding interpretation of their intentions)
and I feel _____________________________________________________
(your own feeling or reactions to the person’s behavior)*
when you _________________________________________________
(the action or behavior of the other person in summary)
because____________________________________________________.
(your view of the explicit impact of their behavior)
I’m asking you to (OR) I expect that you will _________________________________________
(your assertion of the behavior you expect from the other)

Sometimes it is helpful to direct the person by explaining the behavior you expect, and at other times it is better to collaborate to develop a plan of action.  Each situation is different, and you may need to experiment to find the right fit for your interaction.

*Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of discussing feelings at work; however, there are many feelings that are commonly expressed at work and are appropriate to share in order to clarify the situation or needs of the circumstance.  Examples of these feelings include: confused, stressed, frustrated, and ambivalent.  If you aren’t comfortable using a “feeling” word try just describing your reaction.  The goal of this part is to minimize the chances the other person will get defensive.

Example of an “I statement”:

WordsMatter Assertive Example

For other examples, click on the Communication Approaches link, then click Show More and scroll down to assertive approaches to see three video examples.

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