Communicating Effectively: I-Statements

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus

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“You never come home on time! You tbink that everything should run on your schedule, but the rest of the family can’t always just wait around for you! Why can’t you be more considerate?! ” Sheik~ was sick and tired of nagging ber fourteen~year~old son lan about coming home late for dinner. But no matter how often she compLuned, he rarely was home on time, and usually they ended up arguing.

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How you say things matters as much as what you say. If you want to reduce needless tension and futile arguments, it will pay you to learn to use “I-statements” rather than “You-statements.”

The difference between an I-statement and a You-statement is simple. Look at Sheila’s tirade at her son: “You never… You think… Why can’t you…” All You-statements. In contrast, I-statements go like this: “I get really upset when I’ve fixed a family dinner and you’re not here on time.”

Here’s another typical example. A spouse says: “You’re selfish and self-centered because you sit around expecting to be waited on and don’t even help with the dishes.” That’s a You-message. Compare it to an I-message: “I would be very pleased if you helped me around the house especially with the dishes.”

Unless you are praising someone, You-statements are usually combative. Any complaint that starts with a you is often hostile. Even non-combative You-statements are very different from I-statements. Compare these messages. “You could call your mother more than once a month, you know” vs. “I think your mother would love to hear from you more often.” Notice how the I-statement avoids any form of criticism. Which statement is more likely to gain someone’s willing cooperation? Obviously the second, non-demanding one.

• Use I-statements to express your wishes, and avoid critical You-statements.

Here’s another comparison: “Why don’t you get off your butt and help me sort the laundry?” vs. “I’d love for you to give me a hand with the laundry.” The basic formula is “I feel X when you do Y.” “I feel all stuffed up and my eyes start burning when you smoke your pipe in the den.” This is very different from, “How can you be so selfish? You know I hate it when you smoke your pipe in the den!”

Of course, even certain I messages can be destructive. “I feel you are a moron!” is really a You message disguised as an I message. But the “I feel X when you do Y” formula merely let’s someone into your feelings. For loving, pleasant, close and rewarding relationships, I messages go a very long way. How often have you heard someone say: “If Johnny talked nicely to me I’d be more than willing to help him, but when he puts me down (by employing a you message) I get totally turned off.”

• If you approach someone in a demanding, hostile, critical way, you are most likely to generate more heat than light—and gain very little cooperation.

In clinical practice, we see the unfortunate consequences of combative communication styles on a daily basis.

• People who routinely use I-statements tend to get along with others and are much happier.

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Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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