I-Messages can really make all the difference
When parents start putting I-messages to work in their families, they are generally rewarded in a variety of ways. Not only do the I-messages bring about changes in the behaviour of their children, they foster positive changes in the relationships between the parents and the children too. Even with Children too young to understand. Some parents even feel more confident and begin to get more courage to tackle complex problems, others begin to accept that their needs are also important and start to express them. Parents also report standing up for their own rights more frequently, as well as gaining a better understanding of what goes on in the minds and hearts of their children. Many parents experienced that their use of I-messages greatly reduced nagging and hassling. And they even stopped using rewards and punishments to get things done. It just did not become a necessity anymore. Others told us they have become more open and honest, not only with their children but also with their spouses and friends.
Many parents were also surprised to discover how often their kids demonstrated a willingness to help, once they were told that their parents are hurting. And parents were amazed at the ability of their children to find creative and appropriate solutions after learning they had been causing their parents a problem.
What is an I-Message?
I-messages simply state a problem, without blaming someone for it. This makes it easier for the other side to help solve the problem, without having to admit that they were wrong.
What does an I-Message do?
1. Has a high chance of changing the behavior of another person when you find that behavior unacceptable.
2. Protects the self esteem of the other person.
3. Preserves the quality of the relationship between you and the other person.
4. Helps the other person to understand what goes on between you better, and to improve their performance.
When can I messages be used?
I messages can be used to explain your concern when you own a problem. And other types of I-Messages can be used to share your views and feelings when there is no problem.
“I” messages themselves usually contains three elements:
(1) A description of the behavior, what actually happened
(2) The actual, concrete, tangible effects of that behavior on ME
(3) How I feel about the behavior and its’ effects.
You may be very angry about the other person’s behavior, but you remain focused on the issue you are angry about. For example, let’s imagine you are car-pooling with a friend to work who tends to be tardy. This, in turn, causes you to be late and fall behind at work. If you let your anger build up and fuel your behavior you might say, “I’m sick and tired of you coming late everyday and causing me work problems. How can you be such an insensitive jerk?” Such a comment might make you feel good for the moment. After all, your friend caused you pain, why not give some back? And indeed, your comment probably would hurt your friend. In some cases you may even resolve the problem in the process. But you also greatly risk causing anger or resentment in return, which could cause some people to be deliberately late in defiance. You may even loose the friendship entirely.
If you value the friendship, however, and wished to be more certain of resolving the problem you would be wiser to use “I” messages. In this case you would say something like this:
“Whenever you are late picking me up” (description of offending behavior) “it causes me to be late for my job” (concrete effect on you). “I feel very frustrated when this happens,” (how you feel) “and I really need you to be more punctual” (the behavior you prefer). Another example of an “I” message is this. “When you cancel our plans at the last minute it’s usually too late to make other plans. I find this very irritating and really would like you to let me know in advance when you think our plans are not going to work out.”
“I” Messages were originally studied by Dr. Haim Ginott a noted psychologist who discerned that statements starting with “I” tended to be less provocative than those starting with “you”. As you can see from my examples, however, it isn’t necessary to always start a sentence with “I”, but the focus needs to be on how you feel about a situation, which you clearly state, and not on how terrible the other is for causing it. Along these lines, psychologist John Gottman, one of this country’s foremost relationship scientists, points to the importance of introducing our complaints in a “softer” non-critical, non-contemptuous way if we are to obtain resolution.
It would be nice if we never had relationship problems, but we do. Learning to manage them, therefore, is our best hope. And using ”I” messages to communicate our concerns is one way to handle everyday interpersonal difficulties that does work. Communicating our annoyance, irritation, frustration and anger in this more controlled fashion is truly an effective outlet for these negative feelings. And in the process we are less likely to cause reactions that may serve only to perpetuate our problems.