How to Use “I” Statements Effectively [2021 Update]

When to Use “I” Statements 

The essence of Appropriate Assertiveness is being able to state your case without arousing the defenses 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.

Defining the “I” Statement

The “I” statement formula can be useful because it says how it is for me, how I see it from my point of view. It stays out of their space.

You could waste brain power predicting the other person’s response. Don’t! Just be sure that you haven’t used inflammatory language, that is it should be “CLEAN”. Because you don’t know how the other person will respond, the cleanest “I” statements are delivered to state what you need, not to force them to fix things.

Use an “I” statement when you need to let the other person know that you feel strongly about the issue. Others can underestimate how hurt, angry or put out you are, so it’s useful to say exactly what’s going on for you, describing not blaming.

Your “I” statement should be simple and “CLEAR”.

what I statements are not

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 just about being clear.

It’s not the resolution; it’s the opener to a conversation. Don’t expect it to fix things straight away. Don’t think the other person is going to respond as you want them to immediately.

A well-intentioned “I” statement:

  • is unlikely to do any harm
  • is a step in the right direction
  • is sure to change the current situation in some way
  • is open to possibilities that you may not yet see.

Sometimes the situation may not look any different, yet after a clean, clear “I” statement it may feel different, which on its own changes things. 

The next time someone shouts at you, and you don’t like it, resist the temptation to withdraw rapidly (maybe slamming the door on the way out). Resist the temptation to shout back to stop the onslaught, and deal with your rising anger.

This is the time for APPROPRIATE ASSERTIVENESS. Take a deep breath. Stay centered, feet firmly planted on the ground, and get your mind into “I” statement gear. Start mixing a three-ingredient recipe:

When… I hear a voice raised at me

I feel… humiliated

And what I’d like is that I…can discuss an issue with you without ending up feeling hurt.

The best “I” statement is free of expectations. It’s delivering a clean, clear explanation of how it is from your side and how you would like it to be.

Non-defensive Communication

Pointing the finger and using ‘you’ messages blame the other person. When we feel someone is accusing us of something, 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, don’t interrupt. Repeat back to the person what they have just said (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 (even if asked)

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 anxious when…

I get 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…

child-i-statement

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’s 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 behavior is to use the “When …. then ….” statement or a behavioral 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 Netflix that night.

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