When involved in a difficult situation with someone where you either feel you’ve been wronged, or simply want to make a persuasive point, what’s the best way to go about it?
Is there a way to phrase your message that will make them less defensive and more prone to understanding and accepting your viewpoint? There sure is, and it’s one of the most powerful and honorable methods I know for dealing effectively with others.
It’s called the “I Message.” (Not to be confused with being “I-Oriented” or “I-Focused.”)
In this article, we’ll look at the difference between the “I Message” and the “You Message” and how and why it works so well.
The “I Message,” first brought to my attention in the book, Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon is actually extremely effective when resolving a conflict with anyone and in practically any situation you might encounter.
The premise is that when challenged, most people will emotionally recoil and not be open to problem resolution. For example, pretend (since I know this would never actually happen) 🙂 your spouse or significant other has not been speaking to you lately with what you might consider the proper amount of respect and consideration.
A “You Message” might be, “You’re being rude” or “You’re not being nice” or “You’re making me feel badly.”
Note that each sentence began with the word, “You” (as in, “You are at fault.”) Typically, in this case, your “other” will be more concerned with “defending their position” rather than seeking a positive, win/win solution.
Instead, we can temporarily put the “burden” of the challenge upon ourselves, thus disarming, and bringing out the best in them. For example, “It might just be the way I’m interpreting it, but I feel as though I’m not being spoken to as nicely as usual. I’m upset by this.”
Note how many times a word containing “I” is in that message.
What you’ve done is to help make him or her part of the solution, while also letting them know that their behavior is certainly not acceptable, and that it needs to be adjusted. This works beautifully.
Hint: Don’t fear this being “detected as a technique” by your other. Instead, openly discuss it while things are good. For instance, you might explain that you find yourself blaming when in a disagreement, and that you’d like to try something called the “I Message.” Request that next time you are having a disagreement, you’d appreciate their letting you know if you’re speaking with a “You Message” so that you can correct yourself.
Perhaps your other will be interested in having you do the same for him/her. And, if they’re not right away, that’s okay. Be patient. Habits and expectations don’t necessarily change overnight. Of course, you can only set this up in advance in certain contexts, such as with family, friends, and others with whom you have ongoing business or personal relationships.
Suggestion: Teach the “I Message” to your children, friends and team members.
As with anything, please don’t be discouraged if the first couple of times you try the “I Message” the results aren’t “exactly” what you want (although they may just be). Naturally, practice is involved. I’m telling you, though, this works, it’s worth mastering and is actually both simple and easy to accomplish!
And, it works whether dealing with your parents, children, boss, a client, the difficult customer service rep, your nasty neighbor, the banker who won’t let you cash an out of town check (“I’m a bit confused, since I’ve been a loyal customer here for so long. Is there something I’ve said or done to appear to be less than willing to back up a check?”) or practically anyone else.
The “I Message” has been around for quite a while now. Have you used it? And, if so, how has it worked for you?