Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I statements and nonviolence

In the field of communication, which is central to the field of conflict resolution, it is widely repeated that the "I statement" is a very good way to de-escalate rising tensions.

"I think you're a jerk!"

This is not a real "I statement." Obviously, name-calling will not de-escalate anything except progress toward peace and cooperation. You statements are generally susceptible to escalating negativity.

An "I statement" takes responsibility for feelings, ownership of emotions, and says, "I feel hurt and then angry when you say those things about me."

If you feel the stress deepening in your interaction, think about using an I statement to redirect accountability toward yourself rather than on the other person. Your goal is to use the strongest nonviolent communication techniques, which means assertion, never aggression.

If you put the other person on the defensive, you've failed in your I statement. Perhaps you got it right and the person was fully committed to that defensive stance, or perhaps you substituted an opinion for a true I statement.

"I feel that when you do childcare you should never have let the child out of your sight."

That will probably generate defensive feelings and reactions. It might have been more helpful to use the standard four-step I statement construction:
1. “I feel____” (taking responsibility for one's own feelings)
2. “when you_____” (stating the behavior that is a problem)
3. “because____” (what it is about the behavior or its consequences that one objects to)
4. “I’d appreciate it if you would_____” (offering a preferred alternative to the behavior)

And if you are really hoping to cushion all emotions, you might add a fifth step, which is an open-ended offer to help. "What can I do to make this easier?" or "How can I help in any way?"

The I statement may not be the first line of de-escalation--that may be a question that shows you are interested in hearing the other person's opinion, or a validation of their emotional state. But when it comes time to explain your own role in the conflict, the I statement can operate quite effectively.

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