I-Messages: Speaking without Shaming or Blaming

Remember our parents starting sentences with “you” when talking to us about something we were doing that annoyed them? Sometimes the words that followed “you” were full of blame, humiliation, intimidation, shame and control.  So, how does a parent communicate effective disciplinary statements without causing long-term negative emotional consequences?  The answer is: use an I-Message.

I-Messages: making your point without confrontation

I-Messages show respect and are less threatening.

Just as in any communication, an I-Message is used to express feelings, needs, problems, concerns, perspectives, priorities and values. But it is stated in a manner that respects the other person’s feelings, perspectives and rights. It is effective communication minus the negative or threatening emotional consequences.

The goals of an I-Message are to :

  • build trust and connection
  • have a healthy tool to communicate with another person
  • to provide an opportunity for other person to exchange his or her thoughts

How do you construct an I-Message?

The classic I-Message is constructed by offering:

  • A description of the specific behavior causing the problem
  • A description how the behavior makes you feel
  • The impact or effect the behavior is having on you

A typical I-Message sounds like this. “When you borrow my sweater without asking me first, I get annoyed because then I’m looking everywhere and can’t find it.”

So, as you can see in the example, there is a clear description of the behavior, how it makes me feel and it’s impact on me.

Other examples of I-Messages

Parents can practice using I-Messages and stating fair requests.

Stating the facts: “You told me you were going to have all the dishes from dinner dried and put away by 8:00 PM. It is now 8:25 PM and the dishes have not been put away.”

Stating your feelings: “I feel disappointed when I see the dishes have not been put away.”

Describing the negative impact: “Until you rebuild my trust I’m going to have to check up on you when you say you will dry and put away the dishes. I don’t like that and I’ll bet you don’t either.”

Providing a fair request: I expect you to dry and put away the dishes right away, and tomorrow night, do it by the deadline. I also would like you to tell me when you are done so there is no question in my mind.”

Describing the positive impact: “I will be so much more relaxed all evening because I know I am all set for the morning. I will be able to trust you more the more you carry out your commitments.”

Requesting feedback: “Would you like to tell me how you feel about this?”

Explaining: “I hear that the time just got away from you and that you are really sorry that you did not carry out your commitment.”

Challenging an excuse: “I understand that people sometimes forget to do things they promised to do, however when that happens, they need to correct their mistake and accept responsibility for making it.”

Stating values: “I think it is important for people to fulfill commitments.”

Underlying issues: “I wonder, does this have something to do with something else going on between us?”

Practice, practice, practice

Yes, it takes intentionality, practice and self-control in order to be someone who consistently sends healthy I-Messages. However, it is a great way to communicate.

I-Messages are both direct and respectful.  They are a great tool for any kind of communication and an essential parenting skill for confronting issues as we communicate with our kids.

I think you will be much more confident and well-received if you start sending I-Messages to those around you.  Good luck!

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.

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