Reading a recent online post, I was struck by the author’s thoughts on the “I-statement.” She was referring to the sometimes tricky communication technique by which I express to you a need, a feeling, or a request, by putting the responsibility for clarity or understanding on myself, rather than on you. It helps me communicate the impact of your behavior, whether positive or otherwise.
Think of a recent verbal conflict. Did you make accusations like “You always ___! You never ___! You are such a ___! You make me feel ___!”
Notice how the focus of those statements is on the other person — the “you” you are facing in the fight. An “I” statement shifts the focus and helps you express what’s going on for you, as in, “I’m feeling surprised at your remark. I need to hear more in order to understand what’s behind it. I’m asking you to elaborate.” Your conflict partner is less likely to feel defensive, when you leave the “you” out. And you’re more likely to connect by stating the need behind your feeling.
It also allows you be specific in a praising scenario, such as: “When you pitched in on the project debrief, it reduced my workload and helped me get through a tough patch in my day. Thank you!”
The Center for Nonviolent Communication offers a verbal practices like the I-statement to help us authentically connect with ourselves and others, especially when our tendency in difficult situations is to disconnect, attack, or blame. As they say on their website:
Through the practice of NVC, we can learn to clarify what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want to ask of ourselves and others.
A Feeling, A Need, A Request
According to the NVC philosophy, feelings are connected to needs. Remembering this valuable communication practice is as simple as recalling these three phrases:
- I feel…
- I need…
- I ask…
So, now, think again about that recent verbal conflict. Using the “I feel, I need, I ask” practice, would you phrase your statement any differently? If you have a difficult conversation on the horizon, write out a couple of “I” statements and see if they express your feelings, needs, and requests while honoring that your conflict partner has their own.