How to Use “I” Language

Using “I” language, also known as “I” statements, is a way to express your thoughts and feelings in an assertive, non-aggressive way. “I” statements tend to make people feel less defensive and more willing to listen. This can be helpful for defusing conflicts and asserting yourself in a polite way. You can easily learn how to develop “I” language statements, phrase them for the best results, and use other effective communication strategies to get your message across.

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Developing an “I” Language Statement

  1. Take a few minutes to reflect on your feelings. If you don’t know what you’re feeling, you will not be able to articulate that to another person in a conversation. Take a minute to reflect on what it is that you are feeling, why you feel that way, and what you need from the other person. Once you understand these things, it will be easier for you to develop “I” language to explain yourself.
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    • Try writing freely about how you feel and why. Write in a journal, using a notepad app on your phone, or just on a scrap of paper.
    • If you prefer to talk it out, call up a friend or family member who is supportive and trustworthy.
  2. Identify the situation and express how it makes you feel. Figure out what has happened and how you feel as a result. Identify if the person you need to talk with has done something or failed to do something that has affected you in some way. Pinpoint what the person has done or failed to do, and how that makes you feel.[1]
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    • For example, if your significant other was supposed to call you at a certain time and they failed to do so, then you might be feeling hurt, sad, or angry as a result.
    • If the person is a coworker who is behind on a project you are working on together, then you might feel frustrated that their lack of progress is preventing you from doing your job.
  3. Describe the other person’s behavior and how it affects you. Next, take a moment to describe the person’s action and its effects in a short phrase or sentence. This is important so that you are totally clear on the issue. Try to keep this description as simple as possible.
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    • For example, you might write something like, “John did not call me when he said he would and I was worried something might have happened to him.”
    • Or, in the situation with a coworker, you might write, “Sarah is behind on the project we are working on together and I can’t finish my part without her information.”
  4. Say how you feel and why you feel this way. Next, focus on the emotions associated with the person’s actions. “I” statements are meant to allow you to convey your emotions to another person without putting them on the defensive. To do this, you need to get crystal clear on what it is you are feeling.
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    • For example, as a result of John not calling you, you might write, “I felt worried when he didn’t call, but now that I know he’s okay, I feel hurt that he forgot to call me.”
    • In the case of your coworker, you might simply write, “I feel stressed because my work is being held up.”
  5. Identify what you expect from the other person going forward. The final thing you need to consider when developing your “I” statement is what you need the other person to do moving forward. The goal of this is to find a solution to the problem and hopefully prevent a similar issue in the future.
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    • In the case of John not calling, you might write, “In the future, I would like it if John would make sure to call me when he says he will.”
    • In the case of your coworker, you might write, “I need Sarah to get her information to me as soon as possible.”
  6. Turn your notes into an “I” language statement. Once you have thoroughly examined the situation, your feelings, and your expectations for the future, turn these notes into a simple “I” statement. Start by saying how you feel, why you feel that way, and what you expect or need.[2]
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    • For example, you might tell John, “I’m feeling upset because I didn’t hear from you last night. I was worried that something happened to you. Please make sure to call me next time we schedule a phone call so I won’t be worried.”
    • Or, in an email to Sarah, you might write, “Hey, Sarah. I want to touch base about that information we talked about last week. I’m a little concerned because I need to take care of this task that I’ve been assigned, but I can’t make any progress until I get the information from that report you’re working on. Can you please send it over to me as soon as possible?”

[Edit]Phrasing an “I” Language Statement

  1. Use the “When _____, I ______” format to express your feelings in a simple way. Once you figured out what you want to say to the other person, you can plug it into a template, such as the “When _____, I ______” template. This is a simple way to put your feelings into an “I” language statement.[3]
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    • “When I come home from a long day at work and see dirty dishes in the sink, I feel overwhelmed and unappreciated.”
    • “When you tell jokes about immigrants, I feel really uncomfortable and insulted. I feel like I’m not welcome in my own country, regardless of my individual heritage, because of my race.”
  2. Add a statement about your expectations for the future. Once you have expressed your feelings on a subject, you can add on another “I” statement to express what you hope the person will do moving forward. This will help to reduce the chances of a future conflict, and possibly also bring about a resolution to the current conflict.
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    • For example, you might say something like, “In the future, could you please load the dishwasher before I get home from work so I can make dinner right away?”
    • Or, you might say, “I would appreciate it if you could avoid telling those kinds of jokes in my presence.”
  3. Avoid common pitfalls of phrasing “I” statements. There are some common mistakes that people make when they are forming “I” statements, but you can easily avoid these by being aware of what they are. Some things to steer clear of in your “I” statements include:
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    • Using absolutes, such as “always” or “never.”
    • Telling the person what they “should” or “ought” to have done.
    • Labeling the person or their actions with words like “weird,” “crazy,” or “stupid.”
    • Starting with “you” or saying “I feel like you…”[4]

[Edit]Communicating Effectively with “I” Language

  1. Take a deep breath and try to relax before you deliver an “I” statement. If you notice that you are feeling angry, anxious, or otherwise upset, take a minute to calm yourself before you address the person. They will be more receptive to your words if you seem calm, and it will also be easier for you to get your point across if you are calm. Try taking a few deep breaths before you speak.
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    • You might also want to plan the conversation for a time when you will both be relaxed and have time to talk. Choose a pleasant setting such as while you’re relaxing after dinner or during a walk.
  2. Rehearse what you’re going to say in your mind or out loud. If you’re feeling nervous, practicing the “I” statement you have developed may help you to feel more confident. Try saying it out loud a few times in front of a mirror, while driving or walking by yourself, or to a friend or family member. This can also help you to make the statement sound more natural.[5]
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  3. Listen to the other person’s response after you deliver the “I” statement. Just as you have the right and ability to open up about your feelings, it’s important that they have the opportunity to express theirs. Listen closely to the other person’s point of view and try to understand their perspective.[6]
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    • Keep in mind that the other person might not use “I” language. If they start to make “you” statements, don’t follow suit. Continue to speak to them using “I” statements to defuse the situation and model good communication for them.

[Edit]Tips

  • Keep in mind that using “I” language can be difficult at first. It’s easy to tell another person “You did this” or “You did that.” It’s harder to explain to the other person why the action is upsetting to you. But with time, you will find it easier to communicate in this way.

[Edit]References

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