In a country music song called, “I wanna talk about me,” Toby Keith sings about always listening to the other person but occasionally wanted to talk about himself, a situation many of us can relate too. To listen to Toby Keith’s song while you read this post go to the
The least effective way to communicate with our friends, spouses and children occurs when we use “you” messages. “You” messages describe the other person’s behavior and are usually received as blaming, criticizing, judging or shaming. Some examples are statements such as,
- “YOU ought to know better.”
- “YOU are being very thoughtless.”
- “Shame on YOU.”
- “YOU make me so mad.”
In contrast to “you” messages, “I” messages are the most effective way to communicate in our relationships. In “I” messages, you own the problem. You tell the other person how you feel and let them decide if they want to do something about it. In other words, “I” messages don’t send a judgment. You share your feelings and trust the other person to honor your emotions with either an action or a validation.
In the following examples, notice the difference when the action is describe and an “I” Message is given instead of a “You” Message.
- “I can not relax when someone is climbing on my lap and I am so tired.” (Instead of, “Get off my lap, can’t YOU see that Mommy is tired!”)
- “I am worried that my new chair might get scratched by your shoes.” (Instead of “Why do YOU always wear your shoes around my nice chair, don’t you know your shoes can scratch?”)
- “I feel lonely when you work late.” (Instead of “Why are YOU always working late?”)
- “I get worried when we are gone so long from the children.” (Instead of “YOU know we have been gone a long time from the kids?”)“
- “I don’t like to be kicked—Ouch! That really hurt me,” instead of, “YOU are a very bad boy, don’t you ever kick me again!”
“I” messages are much less likely to provoke resistance and defensiveness. Telling someone the effect of behavior on you is far less threatening than to suggest there is something bad about him or her because they engaged in the behavior.
“I” statements can be difficult because they are honest and revealing. It takes emotional courage and inner security to send “I” statements. You have to expose your feelings and risk rejection. The sender of an “I” statement is admitting they can be hurt, embarrassed, frightened, disappointed, angry or discouraged and that can be intimidating. But honest true communication brings us closer to intimacy and is very rewarding.
Unfortunately, just because you send “I” messages doesn’t mean your relationships will be perfect all of the time. No one likes to hear that their behavior caused a problem for the person they care about. Nevertheless, telling someone how you feel is far less threatening and more relationship enhancing than accusing them of causing your bad feelings. It is feels good to be able to express genuine feelings. As Toby Keith says, “I wanna talk about me occasionally!”
Camille Curtis Foster, MSW, LCSW
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