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The "I " Message Communication Technique

Human beings are social beings, and we interact with people every day of our lives. Often, our happiness depends a great deal on how these interactions with each person turn out. This is especially true of those whom we care about, both professionally and personally; however, because each personality we deal with is unique and presents its own challenges, managing the myriad of relationships requires us to consciously observe the process and impact of our interactions so that we continue to gain knowledge, understanding and experience in developing relationships in a positive way.

Communication, verbal and non-verbal, is key.

I have realized that to have good management of relationships, we need to be assertive and honest in sharing our thoughts, feelings, and concerns. This needs to be done in a way that does not provoke the other party but is instead respectful and encourages both parties to listen to each other. A good way to do this is through the communication technique of "I" Messages – Verbal and Non-Verbal.

The Verbal “I” Message

In "I" messages, statements are made about ourselves, how we feel and our concerns, and what actions of the other party has led to the concerns. "You" messages focus on the other person and would usually lead the other party to become defensive unless the "You" message is a positive statement of the other person. For example, a husband or wife is waiting for the return of the spouse and when the spouse returns, he or she might be greeted by this: "You are always coming home late!  Why can't you come back earlier?" This "You" message leads to the spouse feeling blamed and attacked and the ensuing communication would likely not be an amiable one. In a conflicting situation, "You" messaging focuses on attacking the other person. As a result, the primary issues are pushed aside.

In contrast, in this same scenario, an "I" message would look like this: "I feel rather lonely while waiting for you to come home. I'm concerned that you are often home late, and I get rather frustrated wondering when you're going to be home." In this statement, the speaker shares his or her feelings and concerns. The clear communication of the concern is a good starting point for both parties to work out what can be done about it.

"I" messages are effective because the focus is on the issue or concern and not on the other person. The sharing of the speaker's feelings can also lead to more trust in the relationship as it shows the speaker is willing to look within themselves and take responsibility for their feelings.

In fact, generally in most interactions, the use of "I" messages is always superior to "You" messages and is a more respectful way of communicating. Even when expressing positive feelings, a "You" message: "You look good in this dress," could be enhanced by "I" messages: "I'm so happy to see you. I remember all the fun we used to have. You look good." 

Generally, there are three parts to an "I" message:

I feel _________________ (express your feeling)

when you _____________ (describe the action that affects you or relates to the feeling)

because _______________ (explain how the action affects you or relates to the feeling)

The order in which the 3 parts are expressed is usually not important. Sometimes a fourth part might be added, stating our preference for what we would like to take place instead.

Examples of more verbal "I" messages:

  • "I get very anxious when you raise your voice at me because it makes me feel like I've done something very wrong. Could you please not raise your voice when we talk?"

  • "I'm so happy you're learning to cook because then I'll know you can prepare your own meal when I'm unable to be home in time to cook."

  • "When you take so long talking to your friend on the phone, I'm concerned that there might be urgent calls that cannot come through. Also, I feel frustrated as I would like to spend more time with you. How about asking your friend to call at another time, when I am not around."

Use of verbal "I" messages might not come naturally to most people initially, but with practice you will be surprised at how you will begin to like this communication approach, especially when you begin to experience the good result of better-quality interactions and more harmonious relationships.

Non-Verbal “I” Messages

Communication isn’t always done during a verbal conversation. Our body language, surroundings, and what we wear are other ways we “speak” to people with “I” messages.

How you stand or sit, make eye contact (or not), or purse your lips, can easily convey how you’re feeling and what you may need. If your surroundings are clean and organized or disheveled and dirty, they can be messages of stress or focus (depending on you, of course). And like it or not, how you look, and what you wear, is a powerful and influential method of non-verbal “I” messaging. There are multiple standard styles that tell others much about your personality, mood, and goals. Traditional, sexy, sporty, casual – they all say something different. The colors you wear – bright, muted, dark, light – as well as the fabrics and how the clothing fits – all say something different.

What you wear isn’t about impressing someone else.

It’s about being authentically and clearly YOU.

I work with my clients and teach them how to Be Your Message. Live it, breath it, translate it, communicate it, all with ease. Verbal and non-verbal communications, in both their personal and business worlds, are impactful and contribute greatly to the joy we all desire. Being understood – and accepted – for who we ARE is one of life’s most sought-after desires. Is it easy to attain? Not always. But if you’re ready and willing to put in the work and embrace all that you are, it’s just a phone call away.


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