Despite what your English teacher told you, sometimes starting every sentence with “I” is a really great way of getting your point across. At work, the well-known, but difficult to do “I statement” is an effective communication tool that can help others listen to you even if you are delivering not-so-great news.

The “I statement” just helps you re-frame your point so your message comes out as nonthreatening, but clear. For example, if your coworker just misplaced a chart, instead of angrily saying, “Why did you do that?” you can say “I felt really panicked when I couldn’t find that chart because I needed it.” The message – don’t move my charts – is the same, but the delivery is very different.

Many experts talk about using “I statements” in all our relationships – family, friends, and co-workers included . It might take a little longer and be hard to get out when you are irritated, but re-framing what you have to say will help your interactions down the road. An “I statement” helps say what you mean in a manner that is not aggressive, not blaming, and not threatening so the other person is more likely to listen and cooperate.

When the person you are addressing doesn’t go on the defensive because of your words, your conversation takes on a calmer tone. And an “I statement” doesn’t mean you are taking the blame, it just means you are not directly blaming the other person. Even if they deserve your angry words, getting into an argument at work won’t help anything and will probably just introduce conflict.

See also
Communication is Key: The Importance of Effective Hand-off Reporting

What about the superior who complained about you in front of a patient or a co-worker? What you want to blurt out is, “You jerk! Did you really have to say that?” But if you take a deep breath, wait until you are out of hearing range of everyone else, and say, “I feel embarrassed when you talk about my work with others because I think I do a good job. Can we discuss problems in private?”

The “I statement” approach requires a lot more control on your part, but the resulting conversation will probably be calmer and more effective. Using an “I statement” takes practice, so be aware of using them in varied situations (try them at home, too) and see if they make a difference. 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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