Learn to Fight Healthily with “I Statements”

avoiding power struggles

Through my formal education I was taught best ways to communicate.  The most effective ways to communicate are actually pretty much the same for parents and children, married couples, and children with other children. It is kind of funny, because regardless of who the communication is between, the concept of “I statements” is useful.

For example, divorce can be predicted (with great accuracy), by how couples fight. Of course everyone fights, but some do it with respect more so than others. “I statements” can help with healthy fighting. When parents talk with their children they can teach empathy and feeling identification with “I statements”. When children communicate with each other, the arguments can be worked out with greater speed with “I statements”.

Years ago, I worked at a school that used an “I statement” script with kids who had conflict to resolve the problem. By the end of the school year, kids would independently walk to the script and use it to successfully resolve their own conflicts without adult support. It was pretty cool.

I work with people to use “I Statements” all the time.  When I bring using “I statements” up in counseling sessions, often times people say it feels scripted or that it won’t work well; however, for those that try to use it I typically hear positive feedback on how it defuses situations.

Okay, enough build up. Let me outline the “I statement” script for you. I encourage you to try to use it and see how it goes. It can feel artificial at first, but it really is effective.

“When you __________, I feel _________. I would like ____________.”

Here are some examples:

When you aren’t following directions I feel angry. I would like you to listen to what I say the first time.

When you yell, I feel scared. I would like you to talk in a quieter voice.

When you don’t pick up after yourself, I feel disrespected. I would like you to pick your things up after you use them.

When you criticize the food I cook, I feel hurt. I would like you to eat the food I take time to cook.

You get the idea of how to do this. You pair your feeling with an action that someone took that impacted you. Finally, you ask for what you need from the person. When you use this script, it is more difficult for the person who is hearing the message to take it personally or get offended. The people in our lives don’t usually want to hurt us.  When they hear their actions negatively impacted our emotions, they are more open to also hearing our request of them.  This is why “I Statements” can take the fight out of arguments (or at least lessen it).

Written by Dr. Steffanie Stecker


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