In my last blog I talked about a woman who wanted to get her friend to stop commenting to her about her parenting style but she feared offending her friend and losing the friendship. Sometimes it can be tricky to express our feelings and needs wisely. One of most useful skills we can learn when we want to know how to express our feelings or confront problems is the “I statement”. Here are two different ways to express a problem in a conflict. Listen to discern which approach would be more likely to yield better results.
The first one is called an “I” statement. It focuses on you and your feelings.
“Ted, I have a problem. I get upset when you spend money without checking with me first. It puts me in a dilemma of not having enough money to pay our bills. I’d like for you to check with me before you purchase something over $50. Can you do that for me?”
The second one is called a “you” statement. It focuses on what the other person is doing wrong and labeling and judging.
“Ted, you’re driving me crazy when you spend money without telling me. You don’t even think of how that will impact our budget. How can you be so irresponsible and thoughtless?”
Which approach do you think made a discussion with Ted more probable? In the first example, Dana didn’t demean Ted or accuse him of wrongdoing. She stated clearly what she was feeling and asked for a specific change. In the second example where she accused Ted, he most likely responded by arguing with Dana, getting defensive or throwing back some jabs of his own.
Learning how to speak in “I” statements when you want to express yourself or have something difficult to say:
I want or I’d like (describe as specifically as you can):
I want to go to the mountains for vacation this year.
I’d like to see a chick flick tonight.
I’d like you to help me cook dinner tonight. I’m tired.
I don’t want or I don’t like (describe as specifically as you can what you don’t like or want to be different):
I don’t want company tonight.
I don’t like it when you swear at me. It makes me feel disrespected and unloved.
I feel (emotion) when (describe an unacceptable behavior or attitude) and I’d like you to (describe a specific change you’d like to see):
I feel hurt when you are constantly interrupting me when I talk with you. I’d like you to give me five minutes of uninterrupted time to listen to me while I’m talking.
I feel angry when you leave all your dirty clothes all over the floor, and I’d like you to clean them up before we go to bed.
Mom, I have a problem. I feel guilty and anxious when you tell me I’m too strict or too protective with my children. I’d like it so much if you could try to support my parenting decisions. It would mean a lot to me.
Be sure when you’re describing a problem that you describe a behavior or a specific attitude versus an overall character quality. For example, below is an “I statement” that digresses into a criticism. You’re not likely to get much cooperation when you say something like this.
“I feel angry when you leave all your dirty clothes all over the floor. You’re such a slob.”
“Mom! I’m so hurt. Can’t you ever say anything nice? It’s never good enough for you is it?”
Remember, if you have to say something critical or hard, pick a good time to talk about the issue whenever possible. Be specific with what your problem is and the changes you’d like to see. Avoid using words like “always” or “never.” Be considerate of the other person’s feelings and point of view and work toward reconciling the relationship even if the problem remains unresolved.
Very few conflicts are worth ending a relationship over. Don’t turn minor issues into major battles. No one always gets everything he or she wants. When all else fails and there is a significant impasse, enlist the help of other believers such as a Christian counselor, your pastor, or other wise people in the church.
The apostle Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche to settle their disagreement and asked others in the body of Christ to help them (Philippians 4:2,3).