Activity 3: Formulating and Using “I Statements”

(Objective 3: Practice formulating clear I messages.)

Communicating with “I messages” helps train our brain to make smarter choices which helps to deflate barriers to communication. Positive messages go a long way toward solving communication problems. For both options of activity 3 it is important to note that this is the formula to help train our brains to respond, not react. Anger and stress are natural responses to fear and pain, and make it harder to communicate.

Suggested Introduction: Just as our emotions can get in the way of listening, they can also get in the way of clearly expressing ourselves. This activity provides some ideas how participants can more successfully communicate their needs and concerns when it is important to be heard. This technique is sometimes referred to as the “I Message” technique because it stresses speaking for yourself—saying what you feel and what you need.

Have you ever tried to confront someone and planned to be very clear with your communication? Maybe you started the conversation like “You said you would fix the lock on the door.” When we have strong feelings in conflict, especially anger, we often use “You” statements. These are statements that start with “you” and they tend to accuse, blame, or belittle someone. When this happens, typically the conversation turns into a heated argument and people get defensive. “You” messages generally irritate people and can derail the conversation very quickly. People focus on their emotions and feelings and not at all on what you intended to say. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It IS possible to express strong feelings without increasing the conflict by using “I messages.” They help keep the conversation moving in the right direction. We can express our feelings (frustration, disappointment, anger, etc.) and needs without sounding accusatory.

“I messages” usually begin with the words “I feel” so you don’t come across as being critical of the other person. They tell the other person your own feelings, what happened for you to feel this way and what can be done to help change the situation. “I messages” help you take responsibility for your own ideas and feelings instead of blaming the other person. We always have a choice in how we respond or react. And it does take a LOT of practice to use “I messages.” Handout 4: Active Listening Tips and Positive Messages suggests other things to keep in mind when formulating “I messages.”

Failing to talk things over with landlords, roommates and neighbors can result in misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and arguments. Learning to communicate clearly and honestly can keep things from getting out of control. Follow this template as you learn how to communicate in a positive way, asking for your needs to be met.
Provide handout 2, 3, and 4. Write on board:

When ____________________________________________
I feel ____________________________________________
Because ____________________________________________
Would you please ____________________________________________

Provide Handout 5: “I Messages” Scenarios. Practice writing “I Messages” in a large group, small group, or individually. Fill in the blanks on Handout 2: creating the “I Messages.” Remind participants to not use any “hidden you” messages! Focus on not using “you” at all while learning how to communicate with “I messages.” Instead, focus on the importance of identifying your feelings (Handout 3) and the facts.

Potential responses to these scenarios:

Scenario 1: When I have water dripping through my bathroom ceiling I feel annoyed because it’s creating a mess and I’m worried about falling on the slippery floor! I’m also concerned for the safety of my family. Would you please fix it today? The leak needs to be stopped.

Scenario 2: When I’m trying to sleep and there is so much noise in the hallway, I feel tired and annoyed because I work the night shift and am trying to sleep during the day. Could you please have your children play somewhere else or stop screaming?

Scenario 3: When I can’t pay my bill on time, I feel ashamed. Because my hours have been cut at work I’ve not been able to keep up with my bills. Would you please allow me to pay $50 a month until I can figure out a way to make some more money? What type of payment plan can I get on?

Scenario 4: When I moved in, I was promised new screens for my windows, especially since it’s a housing code violation. I feel annoyed because I’ve not been able to open my windows all summer long while I’ve waited for them to be installed. Would you please replace them or update me on the status of them by Friday?

Scenario 5: When we moved in together, we were friends. I feel concerned and frustrated because the tension is so high between us. Would you please help me figure out what we can do to get through the next five months of our lease without hurting each other?