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The problem with YOU and I

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During my undergraduate “Business Writing” class, I learned something that really stuck with me.  It made me think twice before talking.  It made me realize how a simple change of words can have a completely different meaning.

I learned about the I and the You statements.

The I and the You statements are simple:

I Statements :  Communicating a problem without accusing someone.  Takes ownership of the statement.  This allows for the other side to help fix the problem rather than admit they were wrong.

You Statements:  Communicating a problem while making accusations.  Places blame on someone else, rather than taking ownership.  This puts the other side in a defensive state.

In order to be an effective leader, it is vital to understand the I/You statements and how these impact those you are communicating with.  I have found it interesting that during my MBA courses not a single professor has mentioned the difference between these two small, yet vital, words.  Yet these two small words speak loudly about a leader’s capabilities, personality, and overall effectiveness.

Here are some examples of using You vs. I

“You didn’t finish the report on time.” vs. “I really am getting backed up on my work since I don’t have the report yet.”

– Is it really necessary to use the accusatory YOU statement, when the latter statement reflect the same message without making accusations of “YOU didn’t finish…”

“You didn’t list the outline in the email.” vs. “I’m unable to find the outline in that last email.”

-The first automatically puts someone in the defensive.  The latter is stating that the outline clearly wasn’t listed, but isn’t directly placing any sort of blame.

“You broke your promise.” vs. “I felt let down.”

– Must I elaborate?  This one is self explanatory.

By using “you,” you might as well be pointing a finger to specifically target the attack.  So whether you’re communicating with staff, co-workers, or even a spouse – think about how you react while confronting someone.  Do you use “you”?  Try to use “I.”  It’ll make a world of difference.

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10 responses »

  1. Great post Ashley!! It is so important to think about the way you say something, as the person’s reaction can differ just in the way you choose to put together your words. Great tips to remember! 🙂

  2. I remember learning this to and I think it’s a great tool- especially working with those more sensitive to taking direction. Thanks Ashley!

    • Did you learn this in your undergrad or grad classes?? I think it would be great if some of the graduate professors could mention this little gem to the future business leaders! Thank you for the comment Sumiko!

  3. I think I statements are great. I actually learned it from a work communications training course and I think it’s definitely something we all can use in both professional and personal settings.

    • Irene – I think that’s great that you learned the I-Statements in a work communications course! Don’t you agree they should teach that more often?!

      • I definitely agree that these kind of communication courses need to be taught more often than they are. It is so beneficial and you can use it in pretty much any situation. It’s helped me a lot to get my point across without offending the other person. The class I took also taught us on email etiquette, which was extremely useful as well.

      • Ahh email etiquette – I was debating between that for a blog post or my little “You” vs “I” rant. Poor email etiquette drives me crazy! Thank you for your feedback, Irene 🙂

  4. Phil Kaufmann

    I learned about this in a marriage class, so helpful in that context. It works great in business and other relationships, too.

    The other benefit is that when you do pull out the “you” statement, it really gets the other person’s attention. If you do not regularly single out another, but then do “you [made this promise], and you [broke the promise]”, there is almost always a physical response.

    Great post!

    • Thank you for the comment! It is interesting how it can be applied both personally and professionally. And you’re right- the implicit message provokes an explicit response.


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