'I-statements' contribute to effective communication and effective conflict resolution.
When we state something as a fact that is really just our subjective viewpoint it can have the following impacts upon ourselves and others:
1. It can alienate people from us because their experience may not be the same as ours.
Of course, people will always have different opinions about things, but when someone states theirs as if it is a fact, this can lead others to see them as rigid in their view of the world or not someone they want to engage with.
For example: If I say:
Working in this place is impossible, no-one pulls their finger out and the company is going down the pan.
...others may not have such a dim view of the company and may feel quite offended that I should make such a statement.
They may feel it necessary to defend the company, or themselves, or even to 'attack back' and make some statements about me that they also see as being factual!
Alan Sharland, Author of the Communication and Conflict website is also Director of CAOS Conflict Management - click the banner below to visit the official blog:
Such a situation will often lead to a disconnection and distancing between all involved as it generates a win/lose dynamic regarding the respective views they hold. Someone must be 'right' if the views are portrayed as facts! And so, someone must be wrong - and it ain't gonna be me!
If, instead I were to use 'I-statements', I could say it this way:
I find it really difficult working here, I think that some things don't get done that need to be done and I'm worried about the future of the organisation.
I'm not suggesting this as a 'script' as I think it often sounds very false to use suggested wordings from others.
You may be able to create a different I-statement and quite possibly a better one. By looking at a statement made in this way we can look at the consequences for future communication and for resolving conflict.
Using an I-statement acknowledges that the viewpoint is our own and not necessarily a fact about the situation.
My 'difficulty working here' could be down to my own present shortcomings and so to identify the difficulty can lead to identification of a corresponding training need I have, or a present lack of experience that only time will allow me to gain.
Or it may lead to identification of circumstances that affect my ability to work that can be influenced and improved by myself and others.
The point is we can review the situation in order to try to improve it rather than see the problem as a permanent 'fact' about the company, inextricably linked to other 'facts' about the people within it.
Also, in using the I-statement, I am not alienating others, nor am I introducing an interpersonal conflict to the already difficult situation. I am accepting ownership of my experience and acknowledging that it may not be one that is shared by others.
This connects quite strongly with the next aspect of using I statements.....
There's nothing can be done about it, it's hopeless....
2. When we state something about a situation as a fact rather than acknowledge it as our own experience, it implies we are powerless to have any influence over our responses to the situation.
This is a common way in which conflicts become entrenched and, seemingly to those involved, irresolvable. Again, the situation reduces to a win/lose situation where if one person's fact is right then the other's must be wrong.
'You can't talk to them.'
'Those kinds of people will never change.'
'Work is never going to make you happy.'
'The Council doesn't care.'
'My boss is a bully'
Alternatives to the above using I-statements could be (and again you may have others):
'I find it difficult to talk to them'
'I seem to get the same reaction from them whenever we meet up.'
'I haven't found my work to be something I enjoy'
'I have often felt that the Council hasn't understood the difficulties I am having.'
'I feel intimidated in the presence of my boss.'
All of these allow for a review of our own responses to the situation that exists. If I feel intimidated when my boss is around, what is it that he does that I respond to in that way? Why do I respond in that way? How could I respond in a way that would feel less diminishing of myself?
See the page on Questioning for more about how to question ourselves and others to support the creation of ways forward in difficult situations.
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Similar explorations of all of the I-statements can follow on from them. All of them allow a self-exploration of our own experience and the possibility of creating new responses to the situations.
The point is that using I-statements allows for the possibility of exploration, creativity and change in response to the situation.
When the situations are described as 'facts' this implies they are fixed and unchangeable.
Nothing is fixed and unchangeable.
We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice — that is, until we have stopped saying “It got lost,” and say, “I lost it.”
- Sydney J. Harris
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Are you experiencing difficulties communicating with someone? Perhaps at work with your boss, or your colleagues, or at home with your partner, children or other family members? Is there an unresolved conflict that you are struggling with?
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Dear Alan -
I recently purchased The Guide
which I think is excellent and highly useful in a personal and professional
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I have an enormous amount of material regarding communication
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Working with 'Bullying'? - This may interest you….
Hello Alan Sharland
Thank you SO MUCH for this article!It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?
Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz
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You have put together an awesome web site with lots of fantastic materials.
Hi Alan, ..... your site is great. I've been reading all the material and have to say its already made a difference in how I sort out/manage some of life's little problems.JH - West London, UK
This article is the BEST article on questioning I have ever read and I'd like, with your permission, to pass it along to our mediators.Your examples of both genuinely open and 'not-so-open' with explanations are very insightful.
ML - Canadian Govt. Agency
I have just spent hours on your site as I truly love the eclectic mix of
reference material that you kindly share. From Gibran to Byron Katie and the fab youtube clips! I am making my free hugs poster as of now :-)