The I-message

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


The word ‘communication’ has the same Latin roots as the word ‘common’ and ‘commune’.

When people communicate, they have something in common. They commune for its duration, in that they cease to become individuals and meld into a common entity.

To communicate, in essence, is to transcend our selves and become part of something larger.