Friday, March 9, 2012

"I" statements

Anyone who has undergone pre-marital counseling or any type of training incorporating communication skills knows the "I" statement.  This is a topic that I cover with my freshman, adolescents who are beginning to experience strong emotions yet lack higher order processing and communication skills (Santrock, 2011).

So why do we teach I-Statements and communication?  Here are some reasons from The Journal of Youth and Adolescence (Caldwell, et. al.) and
  1. Adolescents' willingness to share information with parents is a central process through which parents gain knowledge of their adolescents' lives.
  2. Adolescents whose parents know relatively more about their day-to-day lives show lower levels of drug and alcohol use, delinquency, school problems, and depressed mood. 
  3. Adolescents who communicate effectively with parents show both higher self-esteem and better school performance. 
  4. Communication is the most important part of any relationship. When both parties in a relationship communicate everyone feels calm and safe.
  5. Everyone will deal with conflict in a relationship, saying "I" instead of "You" allows the speaker to take responsibility for their emotions rather than placing blame.
Here's some basic information on I statements from The Human Potential Center
I-Statements give our partner information about us, and they do it in a way that's far less threatening than the alternative: You-Statements. They form the bedrock for cooperation because they connect people, build trust, and create healthier, more open and honest relationships. (

To create an I-Statement, all we need to do is start a sentence with an "I." As simple as that may sound, there is an art to creating really effective I-Statements. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Be specific.
  2. Avoid "oughts" and "shoulds.
  3. Avoid labels.
  4. Avoid the phrases "I feel like…" and "I feel that…."
  5. Include our feelings, not merely our thoughts.   
I statements can be difficult to learn to do correctly and even more difficult to implement in a real life conversation.  When I have conflicts in my personal relationships (as we all do) I often fail at my I statements.  I freely share this failure with my students so that they will not feel as pressured to get it right on day one.  Typically, we learn about I statements, work on appropriate statements as a group using a fictional scenario, practice I statements about silly things to each other and then use the basic I statement outline to write a note to someone who is real.  Students turn these in and I look them over only to make sure that they've followed the correct format.  The format for an I statement is "I feel ____________ when you ____________ because _____________/"

Going back to the "why" of teaching I statements, I want to share something that Sally* wrote to her mother.


I feel ___angry__________
when you ____don't answer your cell phone when I call ______
because ____I could be dying!! _________________

Clearly Sally is dealing with intense frustration, the root of which is obviously not Sally's mother not answering her cell phone but rather a consistent lack of communication in the parent-child relationship.  Sally expressed other feelings and shared additional incidents when I asked her about her I statement.  Normally I grade the I statements, give feedback, and return the papers to the students.  In this case, I encouraged Sally to share this and her other thoughts with her mother.  Research shows positive outcomes for parents who listen to their children.  Parents, "Listen UP!"  Kids "Speak!!"


Caldwell, L. L., et. al. (2006). "Predictors of adolescents' disclosure to parents and percieved parental knowledge: between- and within-person differences." Journal of Youth and Adolescence 35(4) pp 667+. 

"Dealing with Conflict." (2009) 12 March 2012.

Santrock, J. (2011). Lifespan development (13th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

No comments:

Post a Comment