What’s Wrong With You?

The other day at an office, one gal (we’ll call her Sienna) walked into the office of another (we’ll call her Brenda) and said, “You filled out the shipping form wrong and now we’re being charged $20 per form, where are our copies?” Brenda immediately was put on the defensive.

That same day, in another office, one gal (we’ll call her Susan) walked into the office of another (we’ll call her Gretchen) and said, “When you updated the Web site, you deleted Roy’s email address.” Gretchen was also immediately put on the defensive.

Why? Because someone came in with “you” statements …”you” “you” “you” … it sounds like personal attacks. In turn, the forms weren’t filled out wrong; that wasn’t what was causing the $20 penalty fee per form. And, Roy’s email address? That was kicked off due to a different problem on the company’s server.

It’s communication 101 … using I-statements, rather than you-statements creates an environment where one the problem can first be figured out and two, individuals aren’t put on the defensive.

Of course, Brenda’s reaction was to tell Sienna that she filled out the forms like she has done a thousand times during the last three years. (By the way, these are all true scenarios.) When Sienna called the company back, turns out it wasn’t the way Brenda filled out the form — it was something completely different that caused the penalty fee … it was actually the wrong account number, given to Brenda by Sienna. How’s that for karmic retribution?

If Sienna would have first approached Brenda and said, “We’re being charged a fee per shipping form as a penalty. Can I see our copies to determine the problem?” That would have gone a long way in not insulting Brenda and figuring out the problem and solution much quicker. Same with the Web site situation.

It applies on so many levels. To a child, you wouldn’t say, “You don’t pick up your toys and it creates a mess and then I get so mad.” You could say, however, “I get mad when the toys aren’t picked up because of the mess they create.” I-statements also allow a child to understand the effect their actions have on others.

Using I-statements also allows individuals to take accountability for their own feelings. Doesn’t “I feel like I’m not being listened to” sound better than “You aren’t listening to me.” If you feel a certain way, say that you feel a certain way. Own your feelings. You aren’t criticizing someone else but you are sharing how you feel.

I-statements used correctly can create a trust, give someone the benefit of the doubt and foster an environment to find a solution, rather than place blame. But, an easy trap to fall into is disguising you-statements as I-statements …. “I feel mad when you don’t listen.” That’s just a disguise! “I feel mad because I don’t feel understood” is a big difference. By owning your feelings and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying not to listen is creating that trust.

I-statements are formed by being specific, owning your feelings, and being honest. Start with the “I feel,” add the emotion, and give the reason. Try it; see if people react different to you. You can bet the encounters between Brenda and Gretchen with Sienna and Susan would have gone a lot differently if finding a solution was the goal and not putting someone on the defensive.


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