Saturday, December 6, 2014

I-statement - how to confront people with our problems which are caused by what they do or say?


People have a lot of situations when they're annoyed by what other people do. They usually handle this in one way, which is something like:
Stop doing this!
You're very irritating!
Oh my God, you're so horrible!
How could you do something like that?!
You should have known to not do it!
You can't do it!

And what that person responds? Usually it's something like this:
Don't yell at me!
What did I do?!
I didn't do anything!
You're even worse!
I'm just having fun!
But I want to!

That person feels attacked so starts to defend himself which is a completely normal thing in a situation like this and it brings an argument very often. Also, sometimes he doesn't know what he actually did because it didn't feel like it was something wrong. We can't predict what other person's doing (for example, that want to focus) and that something we want to do will bother them, so leaving them with this feeling that they did something wrong and we're angry but we're not saying what it was and how we feel, is very unfair. There's a way of dealing with this and to do it in a respectful way so that nobody will feel attacked or ignored. It's called an I-statement. We're talking about what we feel, what is our problem - because our problems are ours, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with other person - what we need, etc. We use I instead of you.

A conftrontive I-statement contains three parts:
1. behavior,
2. feeling,
3. effect.

1. While describing a behavior that causes us a problem, we need to do it with as many details as possible. Also, it has to be an honest description so the others can understand what we mean. If someone is  running back and forth, slamming the door so the whole house is shaking and this sound makes us be annoyed because it brings us a headache, we talk about what it is that causes us a problem which, in this case, is slamming the door - not running. Or, if someone is singing very loudly and we can't hear our own thoughts, the problem is the volume and not singing itself. We should say what we see/hear exactly, not what we think the person is doing - for example, when you're saying this... instead of when you're pushing me... Also, we shouldn't give our own hidden messages like solutions to the problem.

2. It's important to be totally honest with our feelings; to be able to say that we're hurt or whatever, without being afraid of showing our weakness at the moment. It works only when the feeling we have matches the whole us because if we say we're sad but our whole body is tense with anger or we say we're fine but we're crying, then the other person will see that we're lying very clearly. We can't expect them to do anything, especially when we're not honest.

3. It won't work when someone's throwing small sticks at us and we say we're afraid we'll die or we'll be seriously hurt because everybody knows it's impossible to die from little sticks that are throwing at us. The person doing this will sense something wrong; will know he's being manipulated and will defend himself, get angry. We can say that we're afraid that our white pants will be dirty if this is the case. This is real then.
It's possible this part of I-statement doesn't exist and then we shouldn't try to find it just because. Simply because we'd lie and the other person is able to sense it.

Sometimes I-statements don't work. One of the reasons might be that someone we talk to doesn't really care about us so there might be some unresolved problem with them and then it becomes our new, bigger issue and we should focus on this. Otherwise, we could talk about our first problem for hours and it wouldn't work. Second, the thing they're doing might be more important to them; they might have something bothering them for a long time and they don't care about anything else. Or they just don't want to put much effort in listening at the moment.

If this is the case and someone is trying to change the subject, there's a way to handle it. We should reflect what they say, show them that we understand and go back to where we are at again. For example, we tell our son that when he smokes cigarettes, we're afraid that he'll get sick. Then he says he doesn't care because he likes it. So we say we see that he likes it and he doesn't care if he gets sick or not, but we're still afraid that something will happen and we care about him. We can't expect anyone to change their behavior because this is just their choice if they do or not. What we can ask for is to be heard, reflected. Then we know the other person considered what we said but if they don't want to do anything with this, this is their right. But usually when the relationship between us is good, there will always be a solution to the problem.

Sometimes it's hard to listen when someone wants to change the subject because something might touch us personally or we might be in a hurry. The problem is that we need to remember that both sides have the right to speak we can't expect the other to listen if we don't want to listen to them either.

Also, some of their explanations might be totally not true for us. For example, going back to the door thing, that kid might say: but when I slam the door, the wind blows and I can run faster! Saying something like, this is not true, you won't be faster! won't do anything good. Instead, better thing to say would be something like this, so you want to be faster than you are normally so you need this wind that blows after you slam the door to help you! Got it. However, I still have this problem... Very good thing is to share their excitement because if they're excited about something and we reflect in a very calm and quiet way, we'll show them we don't care. Why would they care about us then?

So even if I-statements don't work at first, they will work eventually. They need to be honest and respectful, and we need to remember about other people's feelings and needs as well, caring about our own at the same time.

Today I was sitting and writing this thing, Alicia was laying by me, playing a game on her iPad. She was moving her legs which were very close to my pen. So I said something like, when you're moving your legs like this, they're very close to my pen and paper and I'm afraid you'll bump into this and I'll have a big long line across.  She said: oh! I'll move! and she moved a little bit. It wouldn't go that well if I said, Alicia! You're too close! Move! She'd get defensive because I'd attack her without explaining what my problem was. Not only words but the tone of our voice counts too.

Talk to you next time!
Aga & Nathan


  1. It is quite easy to communicate with a child provided you explain the reason of your request in a honest and clear way :)

    1. Right. I wish all the people knew how to be honest with each other!

  2. I agree. Despite personal good communication skills, it is good to remember that nobody is perfect, so it is advisable to not expect too much from others, and to concentrate on improving our own abilities :)