What are the Essential Components of an I-Message?

Have you ever had people confront you by telling you only how they felt—nothing more—such as:

• “I’m upset with you.”
• “I’m really disappointed.”
• “I am worried.”
• “I am unhappy with you.”

confrontation i-message three partsSuch messages can leave anyone puzzled and bewildered. If you were the receiver of such statements your first response was probably to ask “why” the confronter was upset, disappointed, worried or unhappy. Or perhaps you responded with, “What did I do?” The point is that telling a person only how you feel is an incomplete confrontation—it contains only one of the three components of an I-Message.* The three components are:

1. A brief, non-blameful description of the BEHAVIOR you find unacceptable.
3. The tangible and concrete EFFECT of the behavior on you.

Here are some examples of Confrontive I-Messages:

1. To receptionist: “I feel very upset when you’re not here at 8:30 a.m. to answer the phone because that means I have to leave my work to cover for you.”

2. To colleague: “When you went to Sandy about issues you have with me, and then I hear about it from Sandy, I feel hurt and resentful because it erodes the trust I have in our relationship and I don’t get the information I need to address the issues.”

3. To manager: “I want to be valued for my talent and capabilities in the decisions I make and the work I do and when you make decisions that impact me without discussion or consultation, I feel discouraged and demotivated.”

During the initial phase of learning to send Confrontive I-Messages, you will undoubtedly feel self-conscious and a bit mechanical. Gradually, with practice, they will come much more naturally and require less deliberate thought.

*I-Messages were created by Dr. Thomas Gordon, author of P.E.T. and L.E.T. and founder of Gordon Training International.

Learn more about L.E.T.