I want you to spend three minutes reading this post.  (See what I did there?)

Let’s start by thinking about how you might handle the following situations:

1. Your neighbors leave their dog outside and it barks all night long, keeping you awake.

2. A coworker takes her bad mood out on you by yelling at you in front of clients.

3. You find out your friend lied to you about being sick.

4. Your spouse or roommate has left their dirty socks in the living room for the third day in a row.

When we’re in confrontation mode, it’s typical to begin a conversation with “You” or “Your.” You lied to me about being sick. Your socks have been in the living room for days. And how does that person react to those accusations? No doubt defensively.

What would happen if you started your sentences with “I” instead of “You?”

I felt betrayed when I found out you weren’t really sick. I felt disrespected because I have to look at your dirty socks.  I feel tired all the time because your dog’s constant barking disturbs my sleep.  I felt embarrassed when you yelled at me in front of our clients.

Because you’re starting your sentence with how you felt rather than by accusing the other person, it’s more likely that a compromise can be reached, or even an apology issued.  It’s also more impactful because you’re not issuing blame and not putting the other person on the defensive.

Are there other ways in which an “I” message might be helpful?  

In divorce mediation, I often hear one party make accusatory statements about the other.  Those statements typically start with “you always” or “you never,” leaving the accused no option but to deny and defend.  That doesn’t go over very well when our goal is to arrive at a settlement.  

See if you can reword the following statements, taken directly from my divorce mediation files:

  1.  You never apologize.
  2.   You are always out golfing or on your phone when the kids need help with their homework.
  3.   You always used to give me compliments.
  4.   You never show interest in what’s going on with my family.

It’s easy enough to change “you” to “I,” but it’s another thing entirely to eliminate the absolutes from your vocabulary.  Nothing really happens “always” or “never,” but we think our point is made stronger by adding those unnecessary (and untrue) words.  Try these alternatives: (1) I rarely hear an apology from you.  (2) I believe the kids could get better math grades if you helped them.  (3) I feel invisible when you don’t notice my new haircut.  (4) I wish you had a better relationship with my parents.

If you understand the importance of the words we choose and how they’re received, I hope that you find yourself taking an extra moment to start your sentences with “I” instead of “You.”  And while you’re at it, give a shot at eliminating “always” and “never” from your vocabulary.

If you think this makes sense, please comment.