Apr 6, 2010

What Are Some Typical Questions About I-Messages?

Typical Questions About I-Messages

Q: Won't I-Messages be perceived as disguised You-Messages and therefore meet similar resistance?
A: Quite possibly...however, as the level of trust increases in a relationship over time, the likelihood of resistance may diminish. In any case, Shifting Gears to Active Listening will help.

Q: Won't I-Messages make the other person feel guilty?
A: Yes, they might, especially if his/her behavior has hurt you. But such guilt may be appropriate. And you can help the other to handle any guilt s/he expresses by Shifting Gears to Active Listening.

Q: Must all three parts always be present in a Confrontive I-Message?
A: No. Sending the three elements-behavior, tangible effects, and feelings--is the strongest, most potent influencer available; but just feelings or just effects may produce change--especially if the other's need is not strong and/or the relationship is close.

Q: If there are no tangible and concrete effects on me from the other person's unacceptable behavior, does that mean I'm supposed to stop feeling unaccepting, hurt, sad, or worried?
A: No. It simply means that since the other person's behavior is not tangibly interfering with your needs, s/he may be unmotivated to change, and you will have to rely on the less predictable Values Collision options. And you may still feel upset about the other's behavior.

Q: Doesn't the influencing ability of I-Messages eventually "wear out" from overuse, and don't I-Messages then have to be replaced by reprimanding, "training", or the use of coercive power?
A: The consistent use of I-Messages (as opposed to You-Messages or power) usually results in a closer, more mutually respectful relationship, especially if you also help the other when s/he has a problem. I-Messages only "wear out" if they continue to be used repeatedly when, in fact, the situation is an unacknowledged Conflict of Needs or Values Collision. Remedy: Switch to Method III or the Values Options.

Q: Am I doomed to send nothing but I-Messages from now on and to seeing all other ways of influencing people's behavior as "no-no's"?
A: No. You can ask or request someone to do something, or to change their behavior. The critical issue here is that a request is not fair unless you're willing to accept either yes or no for an answer.

Q: What is wrong with I-Messages that deal with my perception of the other person's attitudes (for example, that the other person is inconsiderate, rude, negative, rejecting, or uncaring)?
A: These are usually ineffective--except occasionally in primary relationships, such as with spouses or close friends, in which the issue of caring is paramount. And even then, unless the other is very secure and undefensive, these messages are hard to handle. The reasons why messages about the other's attitude are usually ineffective are:
  • No matter how one dresses them up, they are always You-Messages--the problem is identified as the fault of the other person.
  • The tangible effect of another's attitude on the sender is not clear and, therefore, not very motivating.
  • They almost never square with the other's self-perception--the other has only been trying to meet some personal need. Trying to convince him/her his/her goal-seeking behavior entailed a bad attitude as well simply stirs up unproductive resistance.
  • And, finally, even if I am correct, how can I change another's insides anyway?
In these situations, the best and truest I-Message is often, "When I experience you (behavior), I feel concerned and it is interfering with the quality of our relationship." Such courageous self-disclosure can work wonders.*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's F.E.T. Adult Resource book

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