Episode 29: “I” Messages
In this episode, Episode 29, we will take up a practical mediation concept that will enhance your ability to keep the peace and to make peace. We will reflect on “I” messages.
One of the ways we avoid threatening another’s Face is by using “I” messages. These messages describe how a situation or event made you feel. They are your personal, interior accounts of the conflict.
Ordinarily, during a conflict, you would make statements that seem to accuse the other person. You might say, “you did this or you did that.” But, now, with an “I” message you replace the words “you did” with “I felt.” Rather than speaking about what the other party did, you speak to how the experience made you feel.
When you attribute malevolent cause to the other — when you say, “you did this or you did that” — it sounds a lot like blame. The other party becomes defensive — and they can no longer hear you.
But, when you speak about how events made you feel, you invite the other party into your story. You begin to clear up any mystery that may have surrounded the events of the conflict.
With the increased communication, the other party has less reason to be defensive. They may even become curious about your experience of the relationship. In short, when you use an “I” message, you offer an invitation rather than a threat.
When you use “I” messages you tend to speak closer to the truth — as how you felt or how you saw things is personal. It is the truth of your experience. There may be a dispute as to whether or not your reaction was appropriate, but your response was your response, your experience was your experience.
Later, you may find out you were mistaken, you misinterpreted some event or some words. You may find you weren’t really being yourself. But, as a starting point, your experience was your experience. There is truth to that first-person subjective experience of a conflict. You can honestly say to the other person, “This is how I felt when that was taking place.”
When peacemakers work with parties separately, in what is sometimes called shuttle diplomacy or simply “separate sessions,” they often carry information or messages between the parties. In this task they frame messages, as much as possible, in the form of “I” messages. They do not deliver accusations that only trigger defensive postures. Rather, they frame messages in a non-threatening manner.
For example, a mediator might say, “When I spoke with the other party, I sense they felt hurt when ‘X’ happened.” The mediator relays feelings that may cause the party to want to know more about their opposition.
Or a mediator might say, “It seems to me there might have been a little confusion. The other party was left with the feeling that X, Y, or Z took place. Is that how you saw it?”
When peacemakers engage in framing messages, they utilize “I” messages. This also applies when they speak about their observations as well. Mediators might say, “I have the sense that X or Y might be happening. Does that make sense?” They avoid messages that trigger defensiveness and hostility.
Take some time to reflect on this important technique.
Perhaps find someone entangled in a conflict. Coach them in the use of “I” messages. Help them frame their communications so they are non-threatening. Then, later, follow up and ask how your advice worked. This will augment your reflection on why “I” messages are effective. Make notes in your journal regarding the outcomes you observe.
There are many times when we avoid talking about ourselves, fearing we might appear narcissistic. We might appear to lack humility.
However, during conflict, the opposite may be true — our willingness to talk about how we felt or how we experienced the events may show we are vulnerable. The act of revealing ourselves to another — especially an enemy — may actually demonstrate humility.
When we share our hurts and our concerns — without blaming the other — we open a door and invite the other party into our life. In these instances, our first-person account reflects openness, not narcissism.
When we risk a Loss of Face it shows we are willing to be vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, we are less likely to be a Face Threat to the other party. When we use “I” messages, when we talk about how we felt or how we experienced events, we tend to the Face needs of the other party. And this is a good thing.
Good day. May God bless you and bring you peace.