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Help Others Hear You With— ‘I’ Messages

How often have I expressed a thought or feeling and realized my remark offended someone? Often my delivery rather than the actual message caused the glitch. Fortunately, Dr. Gordon, a psychologist, provides us with a simple communication guide. When I remember to follow Gordon’s “formula,” a positive outcome usually results.

Who’s Upset? The Upset Person Owns the Problem

You have a right and responsibility to take care of your needs and wants. You also have a responsibility to communicate in a way that gets the message across without hurting or frightening others. Consider the following example.

You notice Travis carving his initials on a desk. Travis loves carving.

  • Who owns the problem?

  • You own the problem. You feel upset. Travis feels great.

No matter how justified anger may be, if you cannot communicate acceptance, you waste your time and energy. Also, avoid accusations such as, You are making me feel . . . (In truth, no one can make you feel anything.)

Gordon’s Directions for Phrasing an “I” Message

If you feel upset, you own the problem. When the upset belongs to you, you must initiate the communication. Using the following starters, develop a clear and effective ‘I’ message. Brevity helps.

  • When I see/hear/notice . . . (name a behavior)

  • I feel . . . (state a simple feeling such as anger or sadness)

  • I want you to please . . . (be specific and brief about what you want)

No one guarantees that you will get what you want, but you have improved your chances. People tend to overreact when attacked or when told they are wrong. The same individuals may respond well when they know your feelings and desires.

Examples of an ‘I’ Message

Homework Needs to Get Finished

  1. Describe what you see — When homework isn’t done

  2. Feelings — I’m afraid you won’t learn.

  3. Request — I want you to finish your work by _____. Will that work for you?

Someone Yells at You

  1. Description — When I hear yelling

  2. Feelings — it hurts my feelings.

  3. Request — Please talk in a regular voice.

Ways to Ruin an ‘I’ Message

Nothing creates resentment and resistance faster than attacks and commands. Avoid all orders, warnings, sermons, and judgments.


  1. Description —You’re arguing again.

  2. Ordering —Stop arguing now! You’re driving me crazy.


  1. Description — Your desk is covered with papers.

  2. WarningIf you know what’s good for you, you will . . .


  1. Description — You are still playing games on your iPad.

  2. Preaching —You should know better than that.


  1. Description —You called me a bad name.

  2. Judgment — Good girls don’t talk like that. I’m ashamed of you.

The hardest part of sending an “I” message is to STOP talking once the message has been sent. Preaching, judging, warning, or ordering will destroy the simplicity of your communication. Of course, once you share your feelings and requests, the other person may need an equal opportunity to send his or her own “I” message. Then, it’s your turn to listen.

Works Cited:

Gordon, T. P.E.T. “Parent Effectiveness Training”. NY: A Plume Book New American Library. 1975.

Gordon, T. “About Dr. Thomas Gordon”. Gordon Training International. 2015.


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