4. Appropriate Assertiveness
When to use "I" Statements
The essence of Appropriate Assertiveness is being able to state
your case without arousing the defences of the other person. The
secret of sucess lies in saying how it is for you rather than what they
should or shouldn't do. "the way I see it...", attached to
your assertive statement, helps. A skilled "I" statement
goes even further.
When you want to state your point of view helpfully, the "I"
statement formula can be useful. An "I" statement says
how it is on my side, how I see it.
You could waste inordinate quantitites of brain power debating how
the other person will or won't respond. Don't! You
do need to be sure that you haven't used inflaming language,
which would be highly likely to cause a negative response i.e. it
should be "clean". Because you don't know
beforehand whether the other person will do what you want or not,
the cleanest "I" statements are delivered not to force them
to fix things, but to state what you need.
Use an "I" statement when you need to let the other person
know you are feeling strongly about the issue. Others often underestimate
how hurt or angry or put out you are, so it's useful to say exactly
what's going on for you - making the situation appear neither
better nor worse i.e. your "I" statement should be "clear".
What Your "I" Statement Isn't
Your "I" statement is not about being polite. It's
not to do with "soft" or "nice", nor should it
be rude. It's about being clear.
It's a conversation opener, not the resolution. It's
the opener to improving rather than deteriorating relationships.
If you expect it to be the answer and to fix what's not working
straight away - you may have an unrealistic expectation.
If you expect the other person to respond as you want them to immediately,
you may have an unrealistic expectation.
What you can realistically expect is that an appropriate "I"
statement made with good intent
- is highly unlikely to do any harm
- is a step in the right direction
- is sure to change the current situation in
- can/will open up to possibilities you may
not yet see.
Sometimes the situation may not look any different yet after a clean,
clear "I" statement it often feels different, and
that on its own can change things.
Here's an example:
Nan was upset when she heard her adult son, Tommy, had visited town
and not bothered to call or see her. They seemed to be growing
further apart, and she had been brooding over this. She did not
want to appear to nag him, or say anything to make things worse. She
did want to see him when he came to town.
When next they spoke, instead of putting on her "pretending not
to be hurt" voice, she prepared herself for the conversatin with
a well rehearsed "I" statement. She got it "clear"
and "clean". She was very sure she wanted a conversation
that would be different from all those times she hinted at the problem
without really saying it.
"When I miss out on seeing you I feel hurt
and what I'd like is to have contact with you when you are in
She said it. Tommy immediately reacted with "You're always
going at me with the same old thing."
But Nan had a clear intention. "No", she said. "This
time I said something different. I was simply telling you how I
For the first time on this issue, he really heard her. There was
a moment's silence. Then instead of getting defensive (his
usual pattern) he said "Well, actually I've tried to phone
a few times. You weren't home." She acknowledged that
was so. She felt much better and they then went on to have the
best conversation in ages.
The next time someone shouts at you and you don't like it, resist
the temptation to withdraw rapidly (maybe slamming the door on the
way out). Resist the temptation to shout back to stop the onslaught,
and deal with your own rising anger.
This is the time for APPROPRIATE ASSERTIVENESS. Take a deep
breath. Stay centred, feet firmly planted on the ground, and get
your mind into "I" statement gear. Start mixing a three