Why "I" Statements
are Etiquette-ful

Couple in a Car

Good communication is integral to good relationships.  “I” statements are etiquette-ful to use when communicating wants and needs because they help you remain clear and straightforward while taking responsibility for your feelings.

“You” Statements Can Be Blameful

Using “You” statements will get you off on the wrong foot in conversation, especially when they stem from emotions.

  • “You tend to leave your messes and need to remember that others live here, too.”
  • “You didn’t get back to me as you said and it’s too late to get tickets.”
  • “You really don’t have a clue about how you come across.”

Each of the statements above come from a place of annoyance or disappointment and lay blame on the other person for causing those feelings.  Feeling blamed will only cause someone to become defensive, which can escalate to argument.

“I" Statements are Etiquette-ful and Not Blameful

Thomas Gordon, a clinical psychologist who labeled the two contrasting statements, emphasized that speakers could be assertive without making accusations.  He called these “I” Statements.

“I” statements focus on the beliefs and feelings of the person talking rather than the imagining thoughts, conclusions, and characteristics of someone else.  They are about being accurate in what the speaker wants or needs.

Some examples of “I” statements:

  • “I feel frustrated when I sense that you are distracted by something else when I’m talking to you.”
  • “I felt blamed just now and I will speak up if I feel this way again so that you don’t have to guess.”
  • “At the restaurant when you talked about my manners, I felt embarrassed. “

These center on the speaker’s feelings and, while they involve how someone made them feel, are not accusatory but rather explain what action caused the feeling.

However, when speaking of actions in general terms, it’s easy to let an “I” statement transform into a “You” statement.

  • “I dislike it very much when you don’t listen to me.”
    (The other person hears, “You don’t listen to me!”) 
  • “I hate it that you will blame me like you always do.”
    (The other person hears, “You always blame me!”)
  • “I can’t stand the way you embarrassed me at the restaurant.”
    (The other person hears, “You embarrassed me!”)

To ensure that your “I” statements are etiquette-ful and focused on your feelings rather than turning into accusatory “You” statements, it is worth practicing them.  Think of various situations that you face or have faced when you would like to stand up for yourself and your feelings.  Use these situations to form some “I” statements and say them out loud in practice sessions with yourself or a role-playing partner.

Reportedly, continuously working on this skill of using “I” statements will improve

  • Others’ positive views of you
  • Your intimate and important relationships
  • Your perception of yourself as a responsible communicator
  • Potentially difficult discussions with a spouse or partner
  • Relationships at work and at home with family

But most importantly, they help improve your relationship with yourself.  They will give you more confidence and reduce any fear you have around speaking up for yourself.  After all, it is easier to communicate how you feel when you know it will not lead to an uncomfortable confrontation.

“I” statements are etiquette-ful because they allow you to take responsibility for feelings and communicate those feelings in a healthy way.  As a communication tool, it’s useful for avoiding or resolving conflict without blaming someone else for the situation.  When you can use a skill to speak up for yourself, help you communicate effectively, and avoid confrontation, there is no reason not to do so!

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