Say “I”, not “you”

The ability to effectively communicate is one of the most important leadership skills necessary for successful management of a business. Whether you are managing a team or an individual, getting your audience to be receptive of you and understand what you are saying is not always an easy task. There are many different components to communication. Communication consists of verbal information, our gestures, our tone, our body language, our facial expressions, and the words we choose to relay information.

Communication is complicated and how we say something to someone could have unintended consequences. People have a tendency to become defensive or even offended when given feedback or criticism in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. The way we deliver information can mean the difference between effectively coaching a team towards a common goal or lowering morale and lowering productivity.

“I” statements

Using “I” statements when communicating is much more effective than using “you” statements. Examples of these types of statements are “I feel…” versus “You make me feel…” Using “I” in your communication not only makes what you are saying more personal but it also allows your audience to become less defensive and listen to your perspective. Using I statements makes your communication more clear. In contrast, “you” statements are perceived as a verbal way to point the finger or place blame on someone else. This makes most people defensive and angry. Once someone is defensive and angry, communication breaks down.


It is important to use I statements when we are confronting another’s behaviour. Speaking from your own personal perspective allows you to use a coaching approach, as opposed to a commanding approach. Conflict can threaten good business relationships. We are most likely going to preserve the relationship if we stick to our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs but avoid direct or implied criticism of the other person. “I” statements allow us to communicate in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone of voice.

Plan first

It is helpful to plan what you will say before you confront someone. Write notes to yourself. If you have written “this worker doesn’t get his work done on time” translate this into an I statement. For instance, “I feel upset when your work is not completed when I need it. I depend on that work to finish my own tasks. This makes me feel frustrated”. It is important to state feelings and avoid judgements, solutions, or assuming they understand what you are implying.

Be direct and allow the conversation to flow in a manner that allows you both to come to a solution to the problem. In general “I feel” statements are helpful. It is important to keep in mind that stating “I feel that” is not expressing a feeling at all and is often expressing a judgement. Try to avoid “that” after “I feel”.

With practice, you will feel more confident and “I” statements will flow more naturally without prior practice.

Establishing leadership

Establishing leadership can be an arduous task. Successful leadership is personable. The team respects the leader, identifies with the leader, and wants to understand things from his/her perspective. I statements allow people to understand where a leader is coming from and where a leader needs everyone to go. Effectively directing a group towards a common goal is an essential task of business management. This simple concept of using I instead of you can make you a more successful communicator and leader in all facets of your life.


Related courses:
Essential Leadership
Managing and Developing People
Communicating Effectively
Managing Conflict

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