Good communication, imperative in all relationships, requires tools that can be easily learned and mindfully perfected. This month we explore the “I” message technique – not to be confused with the imessagesent via Smartphone (which is in itself problematic!)

What is an “I” message?
A way of saying how you
feel without attacking or
blaming others.

Who should use an “I” message?Anyone wishing to effectively communicate to another person.

Why use “I”messages?
An “I” message sets the tone for communication, because it is free from blame, criticism, and judgment. It enables feelings, thoughts and ideas to be expressed in a way that allows the listener to focus on the message being sent him rather than his (defensive) response to it. When a person feels accused or blamed, naturally they’ll begin constructing their defense of what they feel is a false accusation. While they can (and will) deny being “something” – for example being disrespectful – they can’t deny how their action made you feel, – disrespected.

When should “I” messages be used? Anytime you want to express a frustration or enable someone to understand your needs and perspective. For example if you don’t want to return to a certain restaurant say, “I didn’t enjoy the food” instead of “the food was bad.” After all, the receiver of your message may have enjoyed the food leading the discussion to veer off course. Before long you’ll find yourself engaging in a debate about the quality of the food, when what you meant to do was communicate your personal preference.

How is an “I” message formed?Simply say “I”, “me”, and “my” when speaking, followed by an emotion-based word. Remember the goal of the communication is mutual understanding, not agreement. Below are some examples of how an “I” message might
be phrased:

I feel concerned vs. I think you are making a mistake.

I feel hurt vs. I think you must be trying to hurt me.

I feel disrespected vs. you are being disrespectful.

Like any skill, developing and perfecting communication, takes time, patience and practice. This simple, but not easy, technique will help you be mindful of your communication goals – connecting and feeling understood while being respectful of others.

Mozelle Forman is a clinicalsocial
worker in private practice for 20 years. She welcomes your comments at