When a person feels that they are being blamed—whether rightly or wrongly—it’s common that they respond with defensiveness. “I” statements are a simple way of speaking that will help you avoid this trap by reducing feelings of blame. A good “I” statement takes responsibility for one’s own feelings, while tactfully describing a problem.
It’s is natural to want to deflect negative behaviour and find fault. We are hard wired for self-preservation and defence. Avoid threat, keep safe, don’t standout , but when I say natural I mean that it’s human nature. It’s not exactly helpful.
When there is conflict, or we are hurt by someone, we want to point out what they did and why they’re wrong.
But when we tell them that they are wrong or at fault they become defensive and the conversation can quickly unravel into an argument. Both people are now feeling threatened and fully engaged in fight, flight, freeze and fawn mode.
However, there are times when we need to talk through an issue, share how we are being hurt or establish boundaries.
How do you have these conversations without placing blame and the person becoming defensive?
First thing is to pick the right time to have the conversation and we talk about that in the video about HALT strategy. In the show notes below I link to that video. But briefly HALT stands for Hungry, Angry , Lonely and Tired.
If you are experiencing any of these it is NOT a good time to have a challenging conversation.
Next is to use “I” statements.
I statements identify and take responsibility for your feelings or beliefs while graciously describing a problem.
The focus of the conversation is on your feelings rather than the characteristics or behaviours of the other person.
For example, typically we would say,” Why are always late, you never come home from work on time.” But by using i statement the focus shifts from the behaviour to your feelings. “I feel worried when you come home late without calling.”
I statements allow you the speaker to be assertive without accusing the person of problematic behaviour. It allows for more positive conversation and strengthens relationships.
This communication strategy is very versatile. You can use it in a workplace, marriage, parenting really any situation where there is a close connection and you need to maintain the relationship, yet deal with issues that may be negatively impacting you.
I- statements are not natural to us. It is much easier to say to your children
“If you call your sister a rude name one more time,I’m going to send you straight to bed.”
“I feel sad and disappointed when I hear you say rude words. I enjoy being around people who use nice words.”
It takes practice.
The pattern is saying
“I feel” Then describe your emotion, “when” and give your experience.
However, no matter how you change the wording, if your tone and body language is accusatory or agitated then you will still be sending the message of blame. Make sure you use a soft and even tone.
Describing emotions is difficult for most people. If it’s not happy, sad, angry or embarrassed many people are not able to identify it. Below, I’ve linked to a Feelings & Emotional Vocabulary Chart. This is a helpful tool in identifying and naming feelings.
So when you’re struggling to have that difficult conversation, find the best time using the HALTed acronym, communicate using i-statements, then it ‘s also helpful to use active listening skills and I’ve linked to that video as well in the show notes.
LINKS & RESOURCES
Feelings & Emotional Vocabulary Chart Link:
HALT’ed State video:
Active Listening skills: