Communicating in Challenging Situations

When was the last time you didn’t get what you wanted or needed from a colleague? The ‘I’ statement could well have been a useful tool for you to have in your communication toolkit.


‘I’ statements allow you to clearly state how you, personally, perceive and respond to a situation.  You claim your rights to have your feelings, opinions, and perceptions heard - but accept your responsibility not to blame the other person for these feelings and perceptions.  ‘I’ statements can be particularly effective when you are angry, irritated, upset or just not getting what you want or need.


The four parts of an ‘I’ Statement are:


The action:                               “When...”

Your response:                          “I feel...”

Preferred outcome:                   “I would like...”

The benefit:                              “That way...”


Saying to someone “I think”, “I need”, “I want” or “I would like” is more likely to result in a positive outcome than starting with something like “You should” or “You are”. 


This approach also encourages you both to claim your own rights in the communication process and be clear and specific about your needs, honestly and directly. 



The Action

You need to describe the action or situation causing the problem objectively.  Give a factual description of what happened.


Begin with something like:

   ‘When messages are not passed on, I . . .’

   ‘When I hear a raised voice . . .’

   ‘When I’m told we are having a meeting at the last minute. . .’


rather than:

   ‘When you don’t pass on a message . . .’

   ‘When you rant and rave at me . . .’

‘When you don’t bother to tell me you’ve arranged a meeting . .’


The last three ways are likely to cause the other person to be defensive.   An objective description of the event can help the other person understand the effect their action has on you.


Your Response

People don’t always know the effect of their actions.  When you are talking about your response you’re on safe ground.  You’re discussing the facts.  People are less likely to argue the point if you say “I get angry” or “I feel frustrated”.


1.  Your response might be an emotion.  For example, you might explain that you feel hurt, angry or ignored.

2.  Telling people what you do can sometimes be easier than saying how you feel.  For example, “I withdraw”; “I do everything myself”.

3.  You might tell the other person what you feel like doing, even if you don't do it.  For example, “I feel like ignoring you”;  “I want to walk out of your office”.


Avoid blaming others for how you feel, or they may get defensive and reject the accusation with statements like: “If you get angry, that’s your problem!”


Your Preferred Outcome

Discuss what you would like to be able to do or have. This focuses on what would improve the situation for you without blaming the other person.



The Benefit

Tell the other person what they will get out of changing their behaviour - what’s in it for them.  They need to feel that they are winning too!


Putting It All Together:


1.  When I am told about meetings at the last minute (action)

2.  I feel frustrated (response)

3I would like to have some more notice, so that I can plan my schedule around the meeting (preferred outcome)

4. That way I can come fully prepared to contribite (the benefit)



Some questions to reflect on:

  1. What situations require an ‘I’ statement from me at present?
  2. How will I use this communication tool in a way that supports my needs and the needs of the other person?


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