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When to Use "I" Statements

The essence of Appropriate Assertiveness is being able to state your case without arousing the defences of the other person.  The secret of success lies in saying how it is for you rather than what they should or shouldn’t do. 

“The way I see it … “ attached to your assertive statement, helps.  A skilled “I” statement goes even further.

When you want to say something but don’t know what will help, “I statement formula is a good step in the right direction.  An “I” statement says how it is on my side, how I see it.

You could waste inordinate quantities of brainpower debating how the other person will or won’t respond.  Don’t!  You do need to be sure that you haven’t used inflaming language, which would be highly likely to cause a negative response i.e. it should be ‘clean’.  Because you don’t know beforehand whether the other person will do what you want or not, the cleanest “I” statements are delivered not to force them to fix things, but to state what you need.

Use an “I” statement when you need to let the other person know you are feeling strongly about the issue.  Others often underestimate how hurt or angry or put out you are, so it’s useful to say exactly what’s going on for you – making the situation appear neither better nor worse.

What Your “I” Statement Isn’t

Your “I” statement is not about being polite.  It’s not to do with ‘soft’ or ‘nice’, nor should it be rude.  It’s about being clear.

It’s a conversation opener, not the resolution.  It’s the opener to improving rather than deteriorating relationships.

If you expect it to be the answer and to fix what’s not working straight away – you may have an unrealistic expectation.

If you expect the other person to respond as you want them to immediately, you may have an unrealistic expectation.

What you can realistically expect is that an appropriate “I” statement made with real intent:

  • Is highly unlikely to do any harm
  • Is a step in the right direction
  • Is sure to change the current situation in some way
  • Can/will open up to possibilities you may not yet see.

Sometimes the situation may not look any different yet after a clean, clear “I” statement, it often feels different, and that on its own can change things.

Non-defensive Communication

Pointing the finger and using ‘you’ messages puts blame onto the other person.  When we feel someone is blaming us, we often become defensive.  Once people become defensive or angry communication usually breaks down.

When to Use:

  • When we need to confront others about their behaviour
  • When we feel others are not treating us right
  • When we feel defensive or angry
  • When others are angry with us

Step 1. Listen

How to Listen

  • Firstly – Do not interrupt
  • Repeat back to the person what they have just said (try to put it in your own words).
  • Use ‘ahaa etc.’  to reinforce that you are listening.
  • Make sure your body language shows that you are listening.
  • Do not give advice (unless asked for).

Example leader sentences:

What I’m hearing is ….

Did you say …..

So you reckon ….

I understand that ….

So you say that ….

Step 2. Use “I” and Not “You.”

Example leader sentences:

When I’m ….

When I ….

I think that I ….

I feel that I ….

My concern is ….

Step 3. Refer to The Behaviour Not to The Person

Example leader sentences:

When I’m shouted at I ….

When I’m sworn at I ….

When I’m pushed around I ….

When the towels are left on the floor I ….

When I think I’m not being heard I ….

When the toys are left on the floor I ….

Step 4. State How The Behaviour Affects You

Ask yourself … how does this behaviour affect me or make me feel?

Example leader sentences:

I feel unappreciated when ….

I’m worried that something will go wrong if ….

My concern is that ….

I get really anxious when ….

I get really scared when ….

I feel hurt when ….

I feel tired when ….

Step 5. State What You Need to Happen

Example leader sentences:

I need to ….

I would like ….

What I’d like to see happen is ….

It would be nice if ….

For children, there is a sixth step which includes a consequence.  However, it is recommended not to use the sixth step until the second time around.  It is also at this time that the type of consequences can be discussed with the child if they are old enough.  Other ways of getting children to be responsible for their own behaviour is to use the “When ….. then …..” statement or a behavioural reward chart.

For example

“When the towels are picked up then you can go and play.”

Step 6. State That There is a Consequence to Their Actions

If …………….    then ……………

For example:

If the towels continue to be thrown on the floor, there will be no watching Simpsons that night.


STEP 1: LISTEN & REPEAT-So you reckon I interrupt all the time?

STEP 2: USE “I” NOT “YOU”. OK … but when I’m …

STEP 3: BEHAVIOUR - shouted at …

STEP 4: AFFECT OF THE BEHAVIOUR - I need to feel as if I’ve been understood so, please don’t shout at me and I will try not to             interrupt.


STEP 1: LISTEN & REPEAT - So you’re saying I never see the good things that you do, and you feel unappreciated?                                                   

STEP 2: USE “I” NOT “YOU”. OK …but when I’m …

STEP 3: BEHAVIOUR sworn at …

STEP 4: AFFECT OF THE BEHAVIOUR. I feel put down and hurt ….

STEP 5: NEEDS. I’d like not to be spoken to in that way …

(For Children)

STEP 6: CONSEQUENCES - and if I continue to hear swear words in this house then …

Reference: http://www.crnhq.org/CR-Kit.aspx?rw=c



Mandila's picture

Surprisingly individual friendly site. Immense information offered on couple of clicks on.

Denis Hay's picture

Hi Mandila, thank you for your positive comment.

Matt's picture

What do I do when someone laughs at me, calls me names, hits met etc. when I use an I statement. Even if they are a part of my everyday communication style, it may be weird and awkward for the other person.

Denis Hay's picture

Hi Matt,

When this happens, it is important to hold on to your sense of self and not allow other people's behaviour to damage it. Other people's behaviour is about them and the sort of person they are, not anything about you.

You or anyone does not have any control over what others say or do. We only have control over our behaviour.

Your sense of self is far too important to be in the hands of someone else. Your sense of self has to come from within and cannot come from how others treat you or what they think of you. I hope this makes sense.


Konnect Life's picture

I have to admit that while the original article was good, this answer is just another simplistic, cliche, not really thought out answer that doesn't really help much (at least for those who really think and not just take the first thing we see and believe it as fact). Here are the inaccuracies I immediately find in this answer:

*First statement:
"When this happens, it is important to hold on to your sense of self and not allow other people's behaviour to damage it. Other people's behaviour is about them and the sort of person they are, *not anything about you.*"

Not entirely true. Other people's behavior can be a direct result of you (or your behaviors towards them or just your behaviors in general). A good example is the Nice Guy vs the Bad Boy. I can guarantee you that the way the Nice Guy is treated by women is very different from how the Bad Boy is treated, and that ties directly to how the guy is behaving around the woman. Regardless of what type of woman it is, they are still reacting to *his* behavior and how *he* is. Yes, every interaction we have with someone and how they see us interaction may be about them and how they see things (to a large degree). However, it is our behaviors that reinforce, change, or could even potentially cause the other person to see us a certain way and react in a certain way. Another example - if you're a socially awkward person / generous person / flirty person / funny looking person / intelligent or ignorant person / bipolar person, etc. and enough people recognize it and react to it, then you cannot deny the fact that you are more than likely that because usually, if enough people see and react to it, then there must be some truth to it. other people's reactions are definitely more about you, not them, if you're continuously getting the same reactions from a large variety of people.

*Next Statement:
"You or anyone does not have any control over what others say or do. We only have control over our behaviour."

Also not true. We do have control over other people's behavior. If not, then how do the best sales people make the most sales? Why do people who study human behavior and psychology and marketing design stores, brands, etc. in such a way that many are tricked into buying or at least checking out things that they wouldn't otherwise check out on their own? How do radio stations program formats in such a way that people who think they want a larger variety of stations flock to top 40 stations with the smallest and most predictable playlists? How do religions go as far as to control many groups of people? How do men who are good with women tend to have a high success rate by saying and doing the right things that they know will work most of the time? How do the best sales people / influential people, etc. get people to say "yes" based on using learned techniques and skills, or even natural people skills? How do countries, states, territories, schools, prisons, jobs, neighborhood and street / highway patrols etc. manage a large population and keep most people civilized and behaving in such a way that rules are generally followed, whether or not people necessarily want to follow them?

*Last Statement:
"Your sense of self is far too important to be in the hands of someone else. Your sense of self has to come from within and cannot come from how others treat you or what they think of you. I hope this makes sense."

I must say that this is the most irritating answer professionals in the psychological field (or even regular people who run with the crowd and take whatever they hear and believe it as truth) have ever given me to situations. It does nothing for me - mainly because I can detect the flaws in such a statement. That statement is the most inaccurate and false because unlike the other statements, it is completely false (if I understand it correctly, and I'm judging by the general definition of the phrase "sense of self").

Just about everything in life, EVERYTHING, is about what other people think of you! As a matter of fact, you wouldn't be anything without other people, because without anyone (or even anything) else in existence to judge and acknowledge you, you would not be anything. You can think whatever you wish about yourself all you want, but if what you wish to believe is not in line with what the majority around you are perceiving, you will eventually find out the truth really quick! (Or at least constantly be reminded of it). As I said earlier, if enough people are saying something, then there has to be some level of truth to it - ESPECIALLY if it's a very high percentage of people (who haven't met each other to discuss and agree on it) all perceiving and seeing you the same way. In addition, when you are looking for a job or dating or friends or a good school, etc., you can think you're "all that" all you want, but if most or all of the hiring managers you interview with (or others) see you as someone who isn't fit for their position 9or whatever you're striving for), then you better change your sense of self to become someone who is good with interviews or whatever you're trying to achieve in real life because your paycheck (and possibly your entire financial future and success in life) is entirely in the hands of someone else. Even if you start your own business - you are still depending on other people, and whether or not you're successful will have a lot to do with *you* and the way you present yourself and deal with other people. If you fail with 90% of the people you need in your life to be successful, then... hate to say it, but it couldn't all be about them and their behavior. Your behavior is playing a role in how others are reacting, perceiving you, and what they are doing to a very large degree. (And that is just ONE example. The same applies to the dating / social world, applying for school, credit cards, housing, automobiles, etc.) Sometimes there are flukes where you can fool people into seeing you the way you wish to perceive yourself, but that only lasts so long, either until the test/exam comes or you're exposed in front of others who already know the real you.

Yes, I've had a lot of people say "I think too much" or "I have too much time on my hands" as a defense mechanism to the thiungs I say because they either didn't like my answer or didn't like that I made them think deeper than surface level about things or it forced them to reevaluate their entire beliefs system and way of thinking about something, etc. I do accept responsibility for being the way I am and realize that if enough people are seeing me this way, then there has to be some truth to it, and it's not all about them. I am causing them to react (and sometimes treat me) as they do as a result. However, I truly believe that we need more people in this world who think more before they act and speak, and I know when it's appropriate for me to share my thoughts and point things out (for example, me pointing this out here will not affect my dating life, my status of employment, or cause any disruption to my social life, etc.).

During my childhood and into my teenage years and even much of my early twenties, I had a different sense of self from what I have now. I had a false, fantasy world sense of self where I perceived myself to be a certain way when no one else saw me the way I thought I was. However, I eventually began to take notice that I was the ONLY ONE seeing myself that way and others woke me up to reality very fast when I began to take notice (and it began to directly affect my life as an adult)... I eventually discovered that you are what others think you are (especially more so if you begin to see many people sharing a similar opinion of you). Take other people and their thoughts away and you are nothing. This is the same among all living beings - you get stranded on an island by yourself and you develop the sense of self that you are the king among the animals and you dictate the order in which things happen on that island, you better hope that whatever animals are around you are seeing you the same way you choose to see yourself from within and treat you that way, lol..... Same goes if you're ever stuck in any place with other human beings......

Yes, I can go out and think whatever I want about myself. I can believe that I am whatever I want to believe, but unless it's in line with the current reality that we live in, others will always remind me of the truth very quickly - especially if I try to act on any false sense of self beliefs in real life.

I'm not sure what answers Matt was looking for, and i know he wasn't paying anything for any solid, genuinely helpful advice, but I will admit I feel annoyed when I receive simple thoughtless answers. Those type of short, cliche answers are unhelpful to of us on the autism spectrum or anyone who falls outside of the "normal" category because it solves nothing. We already have a difference big enough that enough people have detected it to the point where it was classified as a "disorder." Even if you remove the label (or remain ignorant to the fact that you might have any disorder) you can still detect that something is wrong when you interact with other humans, and the excuse that it's about what sort of person "they" are doesn't fly when they are all rejecting *you* and *you* are the one that is expected to change / adapt to fit majority society or be labeled as something. Everyone's behavior has something to do with other's behaviors to a very large degree.

Denis Hay's picture

Thank you for your deep and thoughtful comments. You have raised interesting points.

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