Improve Your Family With This One Honest Change

“You have no idea what you’re doing.”
“You are so lazy.”
“You have nothing to cry about.”
“You always want the last word, don’t you?”
“You just need to listen better.”
“You should give your friend a chance.”
“You better stop that now or else…”

These statements all have something in common. Can you see it? That’s right—they are all about the infamous “you,” the other guy. Most likely, we have all sent “you-messages.” “You-messages” are other-oriented. They tend to focus on the other person’s shortcomings or cast the blame on them for whatever went wrong. “You-messages” impugn the other person’s character and minimize the other person’s ability to solve a problem. As you can imagine (and probably have experienced), “you-messages” also shatter the other guy’s positive self-image.  These consequences become even more devastating when we consider how many “you-messages” we have sent to our own family members! Look back over the “you-messages” above and think of others “you-messages” you may have heard or said. They can all have the negative consequence of hurting whoever the “you” is. “You-messages” don’t resolve conflict; they escalate conflict. They do not result in deeper intimacy; they create distance. If you want to resolve conflict and create intimacy, replace the “you-messages” with “I-messages.”

“I-messages” have three parts…let’s make that four. 

     1.   An effective “I-message” includes a simple and objective description of the behavior that is bothering you. Keep this description free of labels and judgments.

2.   An effective “I-message” includes the speaker giving an honest appraisal of his feelings about the behavior.

3.   An effective “I-message” explains the tangible, concrete way in which the behavior impacts the speaker. Providing you have a positive relationship with the other family member, this brief explanation will provide some motivation for the listener to change her behavior. 

4.   An effective “I-message” offers the listener a concrete way to help the speaker, a solution to the problem.

As you can see, an “I-message” will be longer than the “you-message.” It will take a little more thought; but, it will also accomplish much more. For instance,

      ·     The “I-message” will prove more effective in influencing your spouse, child, or parent. While still giving an objective description of what bothers you, the “I-message” avoids blaming or putting your family members down. As a result, the other person does not feel the need to defend themselves. Instead, they can listen…and consider.

·     The “I-message” is more honest about my true feelings. When I use an “I-message,” I make myself more vulnerable as I express my feelings about a particular behavior. This models honesty. It also opens the door for intimacy. We connect with our family members through honesty and at points of vulnerability.

·     An “I-message is less likely to provoke resistance or rebellion from your spouse, child, or parent. When we communicate objective facts and open up to express personal feelings, there is less “arguable material.”

·     An “I-message” also communicates trust in your spouse, child, or parent…a trust that they care enough about you to change a concrete behavior that has a negative effect on you.

Most people have to practice to really learn how to drop “you-messages” and use “I-messages” effectively; so, go ahead and practice…make a few mistakes and learn from them. Before long, you’ll be using “I-messages” like a pro…and believe me, the results are well worth the effort.

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