Think of the last time you had an argument with someone you cared about. Did you raise your voice? What was your body language? Did you interrupt? Was there resolution to the disagreement? Too often people don’t understand how to communicate, which unfortunately results in relationships becoming strained or even falling apart.
Researcher John Gottman, PhD, studied couples whose communications and interactions were tracked for twenty years. He established the following principles to build healthy relationships:
Develop the part of the brain where you store information about the other person by frequently thinking about what you like about that person
Nurture fondness for the other
When speaking, look at the other
Let the other person influence you
Solve solvable problems and accept that some problems have no solution
Overcome gridlock by taking a break, compromising, gathering more information
Create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly, like asking questions to clarify meaning
Research conclusively shows that when people engage in positive communication, their relationship deepens and strengthens. A simple, useful tool called an “I statement” can change the whole tone of an argument. Suppose a wife is upset when her husband doesn’t notify her that he will be late and communicates her frustration calmly in this way:
Wife says: “I get scared when you don’t phone me that you will be late.”
Husband repeats and affirms this: “I hear that you’re scared and upset when I don’t phone you about being late.”
Wife makes a request: “I prefer you phone me.”
Husband replies, “I hear your request and will try to do so.”
Why are “I statements” so effective? Instead of yelling at each other, which furthers discord, this kind of exchange helps develop new neural pathways in the brain; demonstrates caring for the other; contributes to solving the problem; and lays the groundwork for future positive communication. To further understand this approach, I recommend Dr. John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. (Harmony Books, 1999).
If you are familiar with and have used this kind of “I statement,” comments are most welcome as to how this helped communication and improved your relationships. If you have not used an “I statement” during a conflict or argument, try it out and consider leaving a comment below about the result. Or, let us know how you could have used one in hindsight. This tool takes practice, and it's often beneficial to assess how you could have implemented it, even after the fact.
Okay, I decided to practice this one, and I want to share a method that helped me: first I wrote out all my frustrations without any censoring. There were many "you" statements. Then I re-wrote the "you" sentences as "I" ones. I may be getting the hang of this!
Thanks for sharing Mary. Your method is very good and will improve your communications with others in a number of ways!
Thank you for this most important topic, Jeannette!
I feel I have not been a good communicator in many personal interactions. Inconsistent!
So thank you for your very helpful examples of
expressing "I" points of view. I have made reminders to help myself.
Again, you get to the crux of relationships; I am indebted to your
most helpful insights and reminders.
Joyce, thank you for sharing. Since we learn by doing as you use "I messages" you will be pleased with the results.