The "I" Message

One of the biggest lessons that we have to learn when it comes to communication and culture, is that we cannot control people’s internal world. We cannot control what someone else thinks, wants or feels. It is impossible. However, what we do have control over is what we think, what we feel and what we need.  When we begin to focus on articulating our needs and emotions, instead of pointing our fingers at others, it puts us in a powerful position in every situation.

For example, if Bob and I had an unproductive or hostile conversation, and I want to follow up with him, if I say “Bob, you did not value me in that conversation,” I immediately put Bob on the defense. However, if I say something like “I did not feel valued in that conversation on Thursday Bob, let’s talk about it,” that comes across very different. The “I message” allows for connection. The “you message” on the other hand, communicates “something is your fault,” or “you did this wrong.” And that immediately makes the other person feel like they need to defend themselves. No one wants to be told you are an idiot. You did the wrong thing. It’s your fault. Although that may be true, you can approach it in a way that increases trust.

Now, if you think that someone else is dictating your behavior, you are already in a bad spot. That is loser behavior. No one else can force you to communicate a certain way. You are in charge of you. As a leader of an organization, I understand that when you have an employee, you are in a more powerful position and you can just tell them something to get the job done. But if we are looking to develop healthy cultures, then we have to learn how to give honest feedback and have difficult conversations in which the person on the other end of our communication feels valued. We can address difficult situations and give honest feedback with kindness when we use this powerful tool. If you can consistently master this one tool of communication, you will find that other people will begin to buy into you, respect you, and partner with you to accomplish your goals.