Rethinking "I" Statements


Students will learn how to use statements that begin with the word "I" in problem-solving situations.


Communication Map handout

Communication Map worksheet


Review the traditional "I" message and the Communication Map with students. Ask students to use the process on the Communication Map to complete the Communication Map worksheet.

Background Information:

The "I" message is cited as an effective conflict management tool in many elementary school materials. The formulated "I" message works well for very young students beginning to learn problem-solving skills. However, the "I" message structure is often stilted and unacceptable for older students. The "I" message loses its effectiveness as a communication tool if it is not an acceptable form of communication in the students’ cultural climate.

The traditional "I" message formula is: I feel __________, when you ___________, and I want you to _______________. This formula actually contains two "you" messages that can put the receiver of the statement on the defensive. The formula also encourages students to engage in positional problem solving by using a phrase that begins with "I want." Positional problem-solving exists when someone continues to state a position by saying "I want," instead of using statements that reflect why the individual wants something. (For more information on positions and interests, please refer to Skills & Concepts.)

The goals of an "I" message are listed below:

• to avoid using "you" statements that will escalate the conflict

•to respond in a way that will de-escalate the conflict

•to identify feelings

•to identify behaviors that are causing the conflict

•to help individuals resolve the present conflict and/or prevent future conflicts

A sender of a message can use a statement that begins with "I" and expresses the sender's feelings, identifies the unwanted behavior, and indicates a willingness to resolve the dispute, without using "you" statements or engaging in positional problem solving. Please look carefully at the examples below and notice how the new "I" messages achieve the goals of the traditional "I" messages but do not use "you" statements or positional statements.


Situation 1: Mark is yelling at James because James changed the channel on the television from MTV to VH1. Mark is calling James names and telling him to turn it back or else Mark will pound him.

Traditional "I" message : James says to Mark: "I feel angry when you call me names and yell at me and I want you to stop it."

New "I" message: James says to Mark: "Hey, Mark. Cool out, man. I'm starting to get angry. I don't like it when people call me names and threaten me. I didn't know that changing the channel was such a big deal. Can we work this out like friends?"

Situation 2: Monica heard from a friend that her friend Angela was trying to steal Monica's boyfriend.

Traditional "I" message : Monica says to Angela: "I feel angry when you try to take my boyfriend and I want you to leave him alone."

New "I" message : Monica says to Angela: "I feel awkward because I heard a rumor about my boyfriend. Will you help me get to the bottom of this?"

Situation 3: Monroe is two minutes late for class for the third time in two weeks and the teacher does not appreciate his tardiness.

Traditional "I" message : The teacher says to Monroe: "I feel aggravated when you come to my class late and I want to be on time from now on."

New "I" message : The teacher says to Monroe: "Monroe, I am glad to see you in class today. When a student enters class late it is disruptive to me and the other students. Let's talk after class and work out a solution."



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