Have you ever had a situation where you want another person to change their behavior, and you ended up arguing with them instead?  There may have been yelling, put-downs and anger.  This certainly isn’t the best way to get others to act in a different way.

One of the best ways to get others to cooperate with you when you ask them to change is to use something called the confrontational “I” statement.  When you use this method, you calmly explain what the other person is doing that you want to see changed, why you’re making the request, and exactly what you’d like them to do instead.  The key is to not blame the other person, criticize their behavior, or put them down. 

Because you’re explaining how their behavior affects you (the “I” part of the method), they can’t argue with you.  You know your own feelings and thoughts better than anyone, and stating how their behavior affects you and only you allows them to see things from your point of view.   

Once you say your confrontational “I” statement, the two of you can talk about the situation and come up a win-win solution that works for both of you. 

Now, just because it’s called a confrontational “I” statement doesn’t mean that you confront the other person in a mean-spirited way.  Just the opposite.  You stay as friendly and positive as possible.

The method of the confrontational “I” statement uses four steps that are said in this order:

1 - A description of exactly what the other person is doing that you’d like to see changed,

2 - How their behavior affects you in a negative way,

3 - Any unhappy or undesirable emotions that you have, and

4 - A request with a description of what you’d like to see them do instead.

It’s important to always say steps 1 and 4 and always include steps 2 or 3 or both of them.

Let’s look at each one of these steps.

Step 1: Describe What They're Doing Now

The first thing to do is to describe the behavior you want to see changed.  It usually begins with the word “when.”  Then follow this word with the specific behavior they’re doing that is causing the problem.  These are two examples:  “When you drive 15 miles over the speed limit…” and “When you stay at the office late most nights…” 

In this step, don’t criticize the other person or lecture them.  Also, it’s ineffective to use curse words or belittle the other person.  For example, don’t begin with “When you stupidly drive too fast…” or “When you’re selfish and don’t think of me by staying at the office late most nights…”  If you criticize the other person, they’re more likely to think about how to defend themselves than how to cooperate with you.   

Just state the behavior you see them doing in a truthful, nonjudgmental fashion.

Step 2: State How Their Behavior Affects You Negatively

The next step is to explain exactly how their behavior affects you in some negative fashion or causes you some problem.  “When you drive 15 miles over the speed limit, my heart races…” and “When you stay at the office late most nights, I don’t know how much dinner to make…”

Step 3: Describe Your Feelings

In the third step of the confrontational “I” statement, you continue to describe how their behavior affects you negatively by expressing any adverse feelings you’re experiencing.  “When you drive 15 miles over the speed limit, my heart races and I’m afraid we’ll have a car accident…” and “When you stay at the office late most nights, I don’t know how much dinner to make and I feel lonely…”

Step 4: Make a Request of the Exact Behavior You Would Prefer

The last step of this method is to describe the exact behavior you want to see them do instead of what they’re doing now.  Here is what the entire confrontational “I” statement sounds like: “When you drive 15 miles over the speed limit, my heart races and I’m afraid we’ll have a car accident.  In the future, please drive the speed limit” and “When you stay at the office late most nights, I don’t know how much dinner to make and I feel lonely.  I would like you to come home and be with me three nights a week after work.”

If it’s appropriate, you can include more than one suggestion for how you’d like them to change their behavior.  This way, the other person can have an option.  You can also point out any benefits the other person will gain by doing what you request.   

Two Important Points to Remember

Many people do two things incorrectly when they first start making confrontational “I” statements.  It’s best to avoid them. 

First, don’t put your request at the beginning of the statement.  If you do this before you’ve explained why you’re making the request, the other person will most likely tune you out and only be thinking about how to argue against what you’re requesting.  It’s crucial that the other person has a full understanding of the reasons WHY it’s important to you to make the request in the first place.  So always put the request at the very end of your confrontational “I” statement. 

Second, don’t say anything about what you believe the other person feels or thinks about anything.  If you do this, they’ll be more likely to argue with you about how wrong you are.  This is a problem in two ways: you can’t win such an argument because they’ll insist that they know their own thoughts and feelings better than you, and they won’t address your concerns or your request because they’ll be so busying telling you how wrong you are.  It’s a no-win situation. 

Instead, state only your own thoughts and feelings, how their behavior affects you and only you personally.  Since your thoughts and feelings are yours and yours alone, you would win any argument about them if the other person chooses to dispute them.  If their behavior is affecting the family or the children or your department at work, you can use that as the “I” part of the statement.

How to Respond to Their Reactions

People respond in different ways to confrontational “I” statements.  Hopefully, the other person will be open to what you have to say and the two of you can have a constructive conversation that ends with an agreement that works for both of you. 

Other times, the other person may act surprised, upset, or defensive when you make your request.  They may be angry that you say you have a problem.  When this occurs, the most important thing you can do is to listen to what the other person has to say and make an effort to come up with a solution that both of you can settle on. 

Still other times, it may be effective to repeat your confrontational “I” statement at least a second time.  Here are some situations where repetition may be called for:

• Your “I” statement may not be clearly or accurately received.

• Your “I” statement may be clearly or accurately received and nothing happens.

• During the conversation, the other person diverts the topic to a side issue.

• During the conversation, you encounter objections.

When you’ve determined that you need to repeat your request, remember to stay calm and repeat what you want.  Also, be as friendly as possible and respect the other person.  Be determined though.   

It’s better not to use the same words in your request.  Say it in different ways: “It would work best for me if you came home from work three nights a week and I knew which nights those were.”  “I prefer that you come home three nights a week so we can spend time together.”  Use a calm and kind voice until the other person agrees with what you’re asking for or discusses the matter with you until the two of you can reach a compromise that both of you are happy with.

Author's Bio: 

Vivian Harte is the co-author of Self-Esteem for Dummies in the Dummies series. She has helped over 12,000 people learn and use assertiveness skills during the last 14 years. She teaches online classes on assertiveness, self-confidence, and teamwork. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Public Administration. She taught college classes for many years in Tucson, Arizona. She has two grown children who are both successful. She lives in Tucson with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

She offers three online courses and 1-on-1 coaching, and you can find out more about these at her website, self-esteem-for-me.com. Discover how to improve your relationships and be a stronger personality in her online course Stop Being a Doormat and Start Using Your Personal Power to Build Healthy Relationships.