The Power of I-Statements


I have been reading more and more regarding emotional intelligence and emotional quotient and have recently attended workshops on how emotional intelligence will be a major key factor in a company’s success for growth and its sustainability.  There are tons of articles and books on this subject and below are some I-Power Seeds to offer some ideas for you to further read or investigate.  Please offer comments as you go through your own journey regarding I-Statements and Emotional Intelligent/Quotient.


It may sound a little cheesy, and when first using this framework, it can seem awkward, but I can tell you once you get used to it, the results are significant and dramatic.  I use this in my personal life and my professional life and the results are significant from potentially putting someone on the defensive to one where the audience becomes open and collaborative.  Try it and keep practicing it and keep notes for yourself and I know you will quickly see the difference and the impact.


What is an I-Statement?

In interpersonal communication, an I-message or I-statement is an assertion about the feelings, beliefs, values etc. of the person speaking, generally expressed as a sentence beginning with the word “I”, and is contrasted with a “you-message” or “you-statement”, which often begins with the word “you” and focuses on the person spoken to.  Thomas Gordon coined the term “I message” in the 1960s while doing play therapy with children.  He added the concept to his book for parents, P.E.T.: Parent Effectiveness Training.


I-messages are often used with the intent to be assertive without putting the listener on the defensive.  They are also used to take ownership for one’s feelings rather than implying that they are caused by another person.  An example of this would be to say: “I really am getting backed up on my work since I don’t have the financial report yet”, rather than: “you didn’t finish the financial report on time!” (The latter is an example of a “you-statement”).


I-messages or I-statements can also be used in constructive criticism.  For instance, one might say, “I had to read that section of your paper three times before I understood it”, rather than, “This section is worded in a really confusing way”, or “You need to learn how to word a paper more clearly.”  The former comment leaves open the possibility that the fault lies with the giver of the criticism.  According to the Conflict Resolution Network, I-statements are a dispute resolution conversation opener that can be used to state how one sees things and how one would like things to be, without using inflaming language.


I-Message Construction


While the underlying rationale and approach to I-messages is similar in various systems, there are both three-part and four-part models for constructing I-messages.  A three-part model is proposed by the University of Tennessee Family and Consumer Sciences for improving communication with children:

  • I feel… (Insert feeling word)
  • When… (tell what caused the feeling)
  • I would like… (tell what you want to happen instead)


According to Hope E. Morrow, a common pitfall in I-statement construction is using phrases like:

  • “I feel that…” or
  • “I like that…”

These phrases typically express an opinion or judgment.  Morrow favors following:


“I feel…” with a feeling such as “sad”, “angry”, etc.


Conflict resolution

If an “I” message contains “you-messages”, it can be problematic in conflict situations.  For example: “I feel…, when you…, and I want you to…”  This can put the receiver of the statement on the defensive.  In a dispute, use of a phrase that begins with “I want” may encourage the parties to engage in positional problem solving.  This may make conflicts more difficult to resolve.  An “interest-based” approach to conflict resolution suggests using statements that reflect why the individual wants something.


The goals of an “I” message in an interest-based approach:

  • to avoid using “you” statements that will escalate the conflict
  • to respond in a way that will de-escalate the conflict
  • to identify feelings
  • to identify behaviors that are causing the conflict
  • to help individuals resolve the present conflict and/or prevent future conflicts


The Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management summarized this approach as follows: “A sender of a message can use a statement that begins with ‘I’ and expresses the sender’s feelings, identifies the unwanted behavior, and indicates a willingness to resolve the dispute, without using ‘you’ statements or engaging in positional problem solving.


The Commission proposed a four-part I-message:

  • “I feel like___ (taking responsibility for one’s own feelings)
  • “I don’t like it when__ ” (stating the behavior that is a problem)
  • “because____” (what it is about the behavior or its consequences that one objects to)
  • “Can we work this out together?” (be open to working on the problem together)


Marital stability and relationship analysis researcher John Gottman notes that although I-statements are less likely than You-statements to be critical and to make the listener defensive, “you can also buck this general rule and come up with ‘I’ statements like ‘I think you are selfish’ that are hardly gentle.  So the point is not to start talking to your spouse in some stilted psychobabble.  Just keep in mind that if your words focus on how you’re feeling rather than on accusing your spouse, your discussion will be far more successful.”


The Benefits of I-Statements, Self-Talk

I-statements have been found to offer a tremendous benefit to clients.  I-statements encourage growth and maturation. 


I-statements are capable of influencing one’s path and design in life.  According to, “An I-statement is a sentence that begins with the word “I.” It helps the… (individual) take responsibility for their feelings instead of saying they are caused by the other person.  This can help keep relationships open and honest between people when there is a conflict.”


I statements are important for clarifying one’s position, contribution, and desires around a situation, event, and/or life perspective.  According to family psychology movement, I-statements are necessary for establishing a healthy relationship.


I-statements help the individual avoid blame, turning blame into personal responsibility.  Personal responsibility is key to learning to use I-statements.  Without personal responsibility, I-statements are null in their intention.

Again, I have used I-Statements in my personal and business life and they work.  In my personal life it helps reduce anxiety and frustration during conflict and opens the door for more open and less emotional discussions.  In my business environment, it basically does the same thing – it reduces emotion and helps create an open and trusting environment so we can have honest and collaborative discussions and where we leave a conversation feeling better and progress had been made and where there are no winners or losers.


Here are some common conflicts. (click link)


I used information from these sites:

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