Avoid Conflict With “I Statements”

This article was co-written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, and fellow member Ilana Ginsburg, with contributions by Raul Rosales.

Avoid Conflict: Try an “I Statement” in Your Next Conversation

Wouldn’t it be great to change the direction of a heated conversation and avoid conflict with one word? It’s possible. Conflicts often start and are fueled by our choice of words. Words like “You are so…” or “How could you…?” start conversations on a bad note. Instead, start with an “I” and focus on your thoughts and feelings about the issue.

“I statements” help us change how we approach hard discussions. Typical arguments usually begin with “you” — “You did this!” or “You didn’t do that!” When we’re angry with someone, we’re likely to tell them exactly what they’ve done to upset us. Often, this leads to a defensive response. Once someone becomes defensive, they lose the ability to truly listen to and understand other perspectives. Emotions take over and the conversation becomes unproductive. Instead, try to frame the conversation in terms of how the issue impacts you.

Using “I” instead of “you” can transform a potentially confrontational situation into a productive, two-way conversation. Read on to learn how to use “I statements” in a way that promotes positive dialogue.

Using “I” instead of “you” can transform a potentially confrontational situation into a productive, two way conversation.

How to Use the “I Statement”

An “I statement” puts your feelings at the center of the conversation. It helps avoids the risk of approaching the conversation in a confrontational or accusatory manner.

Here is an example of a dialogue without an “I statement”:

“Why won’t you let me go to the concert!? It’s so unfair — all my friends are going! Their parents trust them and treat them like real people. You never let me do anything fun. Why are you so strict?”

This statement will feel like an attack and may make your parent less likely to see your perspective. It can feel like you’re blaming them. And it often doesn’t convey your true thoughts in a productive way.

Here’s an alternative option using an “I statement”:

“When I’m not allowed to go to events that my friends are going to, I feel like I’m not trusted or responsible, which I find really frustrating. I’d like a chance to show I can handle myself in these situations.”

By using the “I statement”, you show that you accept responsibility for your actions. The strategy makes you seem self-aware and mature. Your parents are more likely to listen when they don’t feel you are challenging their authority. They may better understand your experience and motivations for disagreeing with their decisions. They may be more likely to treat you like an adult and respect your opinion.

“I statements” provide a clear message with a simple solution. “When I’m not allowed to (blank), I feel (negative emotion).” This statement prompts parents to think, “When I do this my child feels (blank), I can fix this by (blank). Let me show them that I believe in them and see how it goes.” You can inspire change in others by clearly illustrating how their actions affect your experience.

Next time you find yourself in an argument with your parents, consider using one of these prompts to begin the conversation.

  • “I feel ___ when ____.”
  • “I’m upset/hurt/nervous that ___.”
  • “I don’t understand….”

Beyond Parents

The “I statement” strategy applies to all of your relationships — not just the one with your parents/guardians. If you get into an argument with your best friend, let them know how you feel hurt by their actions. If you fight with your significant other, avoid attacking them for their wrongdoing. Instead share your perspective, without putting them on the defensive. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open with your emotions promotes understanding in all of your relationships.

By opening an honest dialogue, grounded in your own emotions, actions, and experiences, you can move toward change and improvement. Using the word “I” instead of “you” provides a great way to do just that.

Share “I” Instead of “You”: A Simple Word to Avoid Conflict with your parents to let them in on this conversation strategy!

Thoughts from the YAB

Raul, 17

“Even if you believe your opinion is right, never deny someone else’s right to their emotions. Show that you are able to take a step back and look at the situation from the outside and be able to see and apologize for your part in it.”

About Center for Parent and Teen Communication

CPTC is fortunate to receive editorial contributions from a range of multi-disciplinary experts, journalists, youth, and more.

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