Which of the following statements would you rather say to a colleague?
‘You didn’t finish the financial report on time!’ or ‘I am getting backed up on my work since I don’t have the financial report yet.’
When two people speak, the ‘I-message’ frames the situation from the first person’s perspective. The first person speaks about a situation as they perceive it, and make this explicit through the choice of their words. I-messages generally begin with ‘I’ rather than ‘You’, and frame the situation as the first person’s opinion rather than as a judgement or a conclusion.
‘I had to read that section of your paper three times before I understood it’ instead of ‘You need to learn how to word a paper more clearly’.
‘I feel sad when I come home to a messy kitchen.’ instead of ‘You have left the kitchen in a mess.’
‘I sense that we haven’t made good progress here.’ instead of ‘Things have been inefficient in this project.’
It is difficult to talk about a difficult situation without triggering negative emotion. The I-message is a tool that helps us navigate this minefield by taking ownership of how we feel rather than assigning blame or judgement.
Recommended reading: I-message on Wikipedia