What are you-statements?
Think about the last time you fought with your family or friends. A time when you found yourself riled up and consumed by the intensity of your emotions. What kind of things were you saying? Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- Why don’t you ever listen to me?
- You just don’t understand.
- You are so insensitive. You don’t care about me. You don’t even love me!
- You’re late for dinner and you ruined everything. Do you even want to spend time with me?
- This place is a dump. What have you been doing all day?
These are all examples of you-statements and tend to be our default form of communication. Unfortunately, you-statements imply that the other person is at fault, and they often push blame on the other person, or accuse them of being responsible for your thoughts and emotions. Instead of inspiring action, empathy, and change, you-statements make the person feel defensive and targeted. As a result of these feelings, the person might issue a counterattack and, instead of engaging in a real conversation, things will escalate into an argument that likely has nothing to do with the initial situation. You can think of you-statements as the grown-up version of finger-pointing and yelling “they started it”.
What are I-statements?
I-statements force you to take responsibility for what you are thinking and feeling. Instead of punishing or blaming the other person, I-statements are a way for you to assertively communicate challenges or problems with the situation at hand, while still holding yourself accountable for your response to the situation. Using I-statements helps the other person understand your experience, increases their empathy, and motivates them to change. In general, I-statements are made up of three parts:
- “I feel…” – recognize, understand and label the specific emotion you are feeling (ex. I feel disappointed)
- “When… because...” – identify the event, behaviour or situation in question (ex. When you are late for dinner) and why the event makes you feel a certain way (ex. Because I want to spend time with you)
- “I need…” - Clearly indicate what needs to be done to address the situation or what you need from the other person to feel supported. Offer a preferred, alternative solution. Instead of saying “I need…” you can also say, “I would really like it if…”, or something similar that comes across as more suggestive and open, rather than demanding. (ex. I would really like it if we could find a time that both of us can commit to or if you could give me a heads up if you know you are going to be late).
What are the benefits of using I- versus You-language?
Previously, it was mentioned that you-statements are accusatory and push blame on other people. In this brief, 3-minute video, Brené Brown uses a personal story to teach you the dangers of blame and demonstrate how, for many people, blame is an automatic and immediate response.
Where can I learn more?
What will students learn?
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…
- Identify how blaming others fuels conflict and gets in the way of accountability
- Understand the different responses that I- and you-statements elicit
- Clearly identify and explain the importance of each of the three parts of I-statements
- Use I-statements to more effectively communicate, problem solve, and manage conflict
Biesen, J., Schooler, D., & Smith, D. (2016). What a Difference a Pronoun Makes: I/We Versus You/Me and Worried Couples’ Perceptions of Their Interaction Quality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 35(2), 180–205.
Hargie, O. (2010). Skilled Interpersonal communication: Research, theory and practice. Routledge.
Kubany, E., Richard, D., Bauer, G., & Muraoka, M. (1992a). Impact of assertive and accusatory communication of distress and anger: A verbal component analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 18(5), 337–347.
Kubany, E., Richard, D., Bauer, G., & Muraoka, M. (1992b). Verbalized anger and accusatory “you” messages as cues for anger and antagonism among adolescents. Adolescence, 27(107), 505–516.
Kubany, E., Bauer, G., Muraoka, M., Richard, D., & Read, P. (1995a). Impact of Labeled Anger and Blame in Intimate Relationships. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 14(1), 53–60.
Kubany, E., Bauer, G., Pangilinan, M., Muraoka, M., & Enriquez, V. (1995b). Impact of Labeled Anger and Blame in Intimate Relationships: Cross-Cultural Extension of Findings. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26(1), 65–83.
Simmons, R., Gordon, P., & Chambless, D. (2005). Pronouns in Marital Interaction: What Do “You” and “I” Say About Marital Health? Psychological Science, 16(12), 932–936.