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“I feel” statements are used in situations that are clear and fairly simple, like when you want to express yourself and avoid a buildup of feelings without attacking or hurting the self-esteem of the other person.
“I messages” are used in more complex situations to clarify for yourself and the other person what you are feeling when a) you have difficult, negative feelings, b) you confront someone and want them to change their behaviors, and c) it is very sensitive and important that the other person accurately understand.
When you first start using these techniques, they will be cumbersome and awkward to apply, and not very useful if you only know them as techniques. However, if you practice these techniques and turn them into skills, it will be easy for you to express difficult feelings in a manner that is productive and respectful.
Which of the two methods you use for expressing your feelings should depend on your goal, the importance or difficulty of your feelings, and the situation.
“I Feel” Statements
These statements take the form of “When you did that thing, I felt this way.” “That thing” is a behavior of the other person, and “this way” is referring to your specific feelings. Here are some examples:
• “I felt embarrassed when you told our friends how we are pinching pennies.” • “I liked it when you helped with the dishes without being asked.” • “I feel hurt and am disappointed that you forgot our anniversary.”
It is called an “I” message because the focus is on you and the message is about yourself. This is in contrast to a “you” message, which focuses on and gives a message about the other person. When using “I” messages, you take responsibility for your own feelings rather than accusing the other person of making you feel a certain way. A “you” message does not communicate a feeling, but a belief about the person. The essence of an “I” message is “I have a problem,” while the essence of a “you” message is “you have a problem.”
There are four parts to an “I” message:
1. When… Describe the person’s behavior you are reacting to in an objective, non-blameful and non-judgmental manner. 2. The effects are… Describes the concrete or tangible effects of that behavior (this is the most important part in order for the other person to understand your reaction). 3. I feel… Saying how you feel. 4. I prefer that you… Telling the person what you want or what you prefer they do. You can omit this part if it is obvious.
The order in which you express these parts is usually not important. Here are some examples:
• “When you take time for your personal affairs using company time and then don’t finish the urgent work that I give you, I get furious. I want you to finish your company work before you start on any personal business.” • “I lose my concentration when you ask me a question when I am focused on a project. I don’t like it. Please don’t ask me a question when I am concentrating, unless it is urgent.” • “It is very hard for me to keep our place neat and clean when you leave you clothes and other stuff lying around. It creates a lot more work for me and makes it harder for me to keep the place clean for us. It makes me resentful and I feel uncared for. I would prefer that you put your clothes away and put your trash in the trash bin.” • “I resent it when your flirting with other women keeps you from doing the work you need to do for me.”
1. Not expressing a feeling at all, but expressing a belief or judgment 2. Sending disguised “you” messages. 3. Only expressing negative feelings. 4. The nonverbal body language contradicting the words. For example, smiling when you’re actually irritated.
Practice these techniques and turn them into useful skills. Make it easy for yourself to spontaneously express difficult feelings in a manner that is productive and respectful.
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