Assertive Communication – “I” statements

‘I’ statements were born in the 70s.

You know, those very direct statements explaining how you feel about someone’s actions, rather than using a ‘you’ ‘blaming’ statement that provokes anger and resentment. They were famously touted as being assertive, not aggressive, and certainly not passive. All in the spirit of conflict resolution.

Well, even if they were part of a pop psychology movement, I believe (there’s the ‘I’ already) that ‘I’ statements are a really useful means of communicating clearly, especially if we have been hurt, offended or wronged by someone.

There are three simple parts to an ‘I’ statement:

1. When you…(describe the specific episode or incident – no vague generalities about someone’s character deficiencies or blatant attributions of fault)

2. I feel, or I felt…(here you own up to how you really feel. No one can actually challenge this  – how you feel). Alternatives: My concern is that….I get worried/annoyed/hurt that…

3. Next time, please could…(phrasing what you want to happen, in the positive, so the other person has the option of how to react differently so as to improve things). Alternatives: I would like…What I’d like to see happen is…It would be nice if…I would appreciate it if…

Here’s an example:

1. When you didn’t answer my text (email or phone calls) for two days

2. I felt upset (because I was actually worried about you)

3. Next time can you let me know where you are?

(Now this is assuming that Person A is not stalking Person B or harassing them with a barrage of text messages every time they disappear for half an hour.)

I think you’d agree that this is an improvement (in terms of potential to resolve conflict) on:

Why do you never answer me, you [insert insult here]! You’re a complete sociopath, no consideration for anyone else in your selfish troglodyte world…etc etc. When it turns out the accused was performing CPR on an elderly shopper in the mall, Person A will have to hastily clamber down from their high and mighty peak.

Here’s an example: someone cancels on you at the last minute.

Instead of an insult – try:

“I feel really let-down and disappointed…could you give me more notice next time?”

Works like magic (it did for me recently).

‘I’-statements are powerful because they inform the other person about the impact of their actions. We so often assume other people understand how we feel. But equally often, people don’t. Assertive communication also takes courage, because you are exposing a bit of your vulnerability. You’re being really honest, without accusing or blaming or being aggressive. Which is also why they are so powerful.

Have a go at completing the following:

When you swear at me/talk about me behind my back/borrow my stuff and don’t return it/accuse me of something I didn’t do/

I feel…?

Please can you keep it civil/talk honestly and openly/respect my stuff/check your facts.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

We would love you to share some of your ‘I-statement” examples! It’s a great challenge to convert an insult into an “I” statement.

Have a go at converting this:

In sooth, thy dank cavernous tooth-hole consumes all truth and reason!

Improved assertive example:

When you lied to me about…

I felt hurt and betrayed (thou crusty, pottle-deep embossed carbunkle). Well, the last insult, though tempting, is not strictly necessary, in fact is clearly an example of an aggressive rejoinder, it’s just it’s so hard to compete with Shakespeare 🙂

I really would appreciate honesty in this relationship…

Try converting this:

Thou vain pox-marked slug!

Improved assertive example:

When you sit there spending hours on your phone (when someone needs to put out the garbage…)

I feel unappreciated (as if you expect me always to do it…).

What I’d like to see happen is that we share this onerous task in the true spirit of equality…


This last one could also (more frivolously) be:

When you spend hours looking in the mirror at yourself

I feel hurt and ignored (because you are not admiring me) and also annoyed (thou spongy fen-sucked pumpion!* last bit not strictly necessary)

Please can you occasionally send a compliment my way.

Just checking that you were reading until the end. 🙂

Have fun with ‘I’ statements, and please send in your examples.


Conflict resolution – win/win


References: Thomas Gordon; William Shakespeare



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