Wanna be heard? Make “I-Statements” Your Jam

When you try to communicate your feelings to someone, do they tend to get defensive? Shut down? Throw your words back in your face? Expressing your feelings during times of conflict can be equally challenging for both parents and girls. The “I-Statement” is a very simple, yet highly effective, tool that allows you to speak your truth AND provides an opportunity to get your needs met. The formula is as follows:

“ I feel [emotion] when you [action].”

“I felt embarrassed when you told everyone today at the lunch table that my parents are getting divorced.”

This technique is effective for a few reasons. First, it forces the other person to look at how their actions impact you, and then take responsibility for them. Second, it is very difficult for someone to get defensive when you are expressing your feelings. Feelings can’t be argued with; if you feel them, they are real and undeniable. Third, by describing the action that hurt you (you told my secret, you yelled at me in public, you cheated off my test, etc.) you are addressing the behavior, NOT the person. This distinction is crucial: you can still love someone even if you don’t love their behavior. In this way, girls learn that relationships don’t hinge upon every single conflict, and can remain fully intact throughout direct confrontation.

Lastly, specificity is king when using I-Statements. It is not enough to simply say “I feel angry when you tell my secrets.” First, dig deep to find the real emotion. Anger is certainly real, but usually stems from something else—embarrassment, fear, anxiety, etc. Choosing a laser specific emotion will help the other person to understand why you are so upset and will more likely elicit feelings of empathy. Second, pick a specific example of a time the person committed the action. Let’s use the example above: “I felt embarrassed when you told everyone today at the lunch table today that my parents are getting divorced.” Instead of just “I feel angry when you tell my secrets”, giving a specific time and place of the offensive behavior will help shield against defensiveness or denial, and will give the person an opportunity to apologize for hurting you.

The next time you find yourself hurt by someone’s behavior, practice using an I-Statement to let them know how their actions impact you. You’ll come out feeling successful and complete every time!

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