An interesting question came up during today’s communications class. We were discussing the technique of talking about the impact another’s behavior is having on us rather than defining the behavior and naming it back to them.
Called “I-Statements”, this is commonly believed to create less confrontational conversations when conflict arises. For example, “I am uncomfortable with …” or “I feel unimportant when…” can get a better response than, “you do …” or “you are …”.
But, in this class, someone questioned whether I-Statements are selfish. We are, after all, just talking about ourselves. Several began to agree.
Here’s a different way to look at it …
Yes, a lot of “I-talk” can be off putting in daily, social conversation.
However, when two or a few of us are in conflict, ‘you’ can begin to sound accusatory, judgmental, even hostile:
“You are irresponsible.” “You are selfish.” “You don’t listen.” “You interrupt.”
No one likes to hear this and most of us will defend ourselves against those accusations. Where does that leave us?
In an escalation or a stand-off. So,
While it may seem counterintuitive, when we are in conflict, one of the best things we can do is to stop talking about what the other person is doing and start talking about how we’re responding and feeling.
I-statements can help keep a conflicted conversation grounded in care and respect. They:
- Don’t ask us to mind-read and assume another’s intentions
- Give another insight into the impact of their behavior and words.
- Offer them the chance to shift their behavior.
- Honor the other by not judging or hiding from them.
- Rather than attack, we give insight and offer another the chance to choose another way.
Do they always work?
Absolutely not. Another person may be too enmeshed in their argument or point-of-view. Or, they may be unfamiliar and not trust the method or your intentions. Or, they may feel they have more to gain by having the argument, the conflict, than by resolving it (important to learn, if that’s the case). Or, the energy of the conflict may have gotten the best of them.
I-statements are generally better than the alternative. They usually prevent conflict from escalating, can point the way out of the fighting ring, and can protect your heart, literally. The stress response that comes with fighting isn’t good for our hearts.
The next time you feel yourself sliding into the conflict zone, step back, take a moment, take a little inventory about how you are feeling and why, and see if superhero you can save the day by shaping your own i-statement.