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3 Tutorials that teach I-Statements
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Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will be able to effectively utilize I-statements.

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Video Transcription

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When we are in conflict or upset, the way we state what we're thinking or feeling can do a lot to either escalate that conflict or deescalate it. I'm Marlene. And today, I'd like to talk with you about a couple of different options you have for saying something.

The first option is called a you statement. And the second is an I statement. And I'd like to compare and contrast these ways of phrasing something.

So let's start with the you statement. Here's an example of a you statement. Look at this mess! You are so sloppy! How can you live like this? You're just a pig!

Now, those are pretty strong statements. And they're really attacking someone. So a you statement here actually focuses on you, focuses on the person. So it really focuses on people.

When you make a you statement, you're focusing on a person, and not actually the problem. So the focus here is on people, not the actual problem, the issue, the action that you're upset with.

Now, it's easy to do this when we're upset because we react. If something has happened, we react, which is an automatic unconscious reaction, instead of a conscious response. And so we attack. Sometimes that's what it feels like. We go for the person that upset us. So it becomes about that person's identity.

So a you statement actually ascribes an innate quality to someone. It's as though you're saying that in all cases, at all times you are a sloppy person, you're a slob, you're a pig. And when that happens, of course, we lose sight of the issue.

We lose sight of the actual problem here, of the action, of what happened. And it becomes a character assassination. And the person will react to that, which is why the conflict will escalate.

Now, if you've ever been on the other end of this, if someone's ever said to you something like you always or you never, or you are so-- fill in a negative adjective-- if you've ever been on that receiving end, you probably have reacted, because it's human nature to do that. And so we get into this battle then over character. And the issue itself, the behavior that led to be upset gets lost.

So how can we turn this around? Well, we can it turn around by learning to use I statements. Now, an I statement takes a conscious response. You need to consciously think of what you want to say instead of just reacting. And that's not always easy to do.

So you may have to just stop for a moment and take a breath. Take a deep breath and think about how you want to phrase something. Or actually take a break, if you're really upset. And then, when you do state how you're feeling, you're going to focus on the problem.

So an I statement focuses on the actual problem here, not the person. It focuses on the action. What is it? What's the behavior here that's causing you to be in conflict, that's causing you to be upset?

So here's an example. Instead of saying you are such a slob, you might say something like when you leave such a mess in the kitchen, I feel really unappreciated and upset because I have to clean it up before I could make supper. So notice what you've done here. You focused instead of the person, instead of a character assassination here about the person, about the person's identity, you focus on the issue at hand, the fact that there's a mess in the kitchen and you're upset because you have to clean it up.

So there are really three parts to an I statement. And I would like to put them down here for you. The first part does focus on the action. So it'll be something like this. When you x-- and x being the action, the behavior, whatever happens.

And the second part of the statement focuses on how you're responding or feeling. OK, so I respond or feel y-- however it is you're feelings or responding. And the third part of the statement focuses on the impact-- because z. So when you x-- that's the action-- I respond or feel why-- that's the impact-- because z-- why.

So here's another example of how you could use an I statement. Let's say you're at work. And you've been expecting a report from somebody. You need this report. And the person gets it to you very late, at the very last minute.

Now, it'd be easy to react to that. You might want to say something like you're so lazy and disorganized. But instead of making that kind of a you statement, you make a conscious response here and focus on the problem, the action instead with an I statement. So you might say something like when you get these numbers to me so late, I feel like maybe you don't care about the project, because it affects everybody who has to get the deadline. They need those numbers.

So what you've done here is focus on the action. When you x, when you get me the numbers so late, I feel a certain way, I respond a certain way, because-- and then the impact on the team, on others who need this information. So once again, changing the way we phrase things, moving away from you statements which focus on people, identity, becomes about them, based on just a gut, unconscious reaction, which can escalate a conflict.

When we move away from that kind of statement and choose to make a more conscious response by focusing on the problem and the action, and using an I statement, we can actually deescalate a conflict and we can improve the communication with the other person, and move forward in resolving whatever it is that is upsetting us. So thank you for joining me. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A conflict resolution technique used to explain how and why one person's action affects the speaker.

Identity vs. Action

In conflict resolution, similar to people v. problems, a focus on specific actions performed by a party rather than the party's innate nature.

People vs. Problems

A conflict resolution perspective that focuses parties' attention on tangible actions and conditions within a conflict rather than perceived innate qualities of the parties.

Reaction vs. Response

A distinction between automatic, non-conscious reaction to a stimulus and consciously chosen action in response to a stimulus.

You Statement

Opposite to I-statements; a statement ascribing a given trait or quality to an other, usually negative.