(excerpted from Be Your Best)
Effective self-disclosure involves knowing what you value, need and want, appropriately telling others about your thoughts and feelings, and initiating action to get your needs met. You act assertively by communicating and acting honestly and directly in a way that does not violate the rights of others or block them from meeting their needs.
Assertive messages are referred to (in Gordon Model land) as l-Messages*. An I-Message is a communication which describes you. It expresses your feelings and experience, not your judgment, evaluation or interpretation of others.
An I-Message is authentic, honest, and congruent. It reflects the actual strength of your thoughts and feelings. It is clear, understandable, and to the point, not masked in indirect or vague language.
What we teach in our workshops, will help you develop your skill in communicating four types of I-Messages — each appropriate for a different purpose and context. These self-disclosing messages are:
The Declarative I-Message — tells others about you by disclosing your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions.
Examples: You say to friends: “I enjoy being invited to your home — I always have such a good time.” “I don’t enjoy camping out; roughing it isn’t my style.”
The Responsive l-Message — an effective way to say “no” to unacceptable requests you receive from other people (or yes to acceptable ones).
Examples: You say to the chairperson: “No, I wouldn’t be comfortable making a speech because I get nervous and don’t feel good about my performance.” You say to the person at your door: “No, thank you, I’m not interested; I have my own religious beliefs.”
The Preventive I-Message — tells another person that you have important needs and want their cooperation in order to meet those needs. You initiate Preventive I-Messages in order to prevent potential future conflicts.
Examples: You say to your spouse: “I’d like to have dinner early tonight because I have tons of papers to grade.”
You say to a co-worker: “I’d like to use the conference room tomorrow because I have an interview with a journalist.”
The Confrontive l-Message — communicates that you feel unaccepting of the other person’s behavior — that the other person has done something which interferes with your meeting your needs. As we all know, it takes energy and causes stress when we hide upsetting feelings from others. Expressing such feelings in a clear and non-blameful way can be cathartic both physically and emotionally.
Examples: You say to your child: “I’m getting frustrated because your music is turned way up and it’s hard for me to concentrate.”
You say to your team member: “When you hold meetings that affect my job and I’m not invited, I feel anxious because decisions might get made that would make my job harder.”
These four messages can be seen on a continuum of risk, with the Declarative I-Message as the least risky and the Confrontive l-Message as the most risky. However, the kind of person you are and the particular situation and relationship in which you find yourself determines the risk associated with each type of I-Message. For example, you may find that expressing a Declarative I-Message is more risky in some situations (e.g., with a boss that you fear) than sending a Confrontive l-Message would be in another situation (e.g., with your young child).
Some of the major benefits of self-disclosure include:
Increased Self-Esteem. I feel better when I am open, honest and clear with others; when I express who I am and what I think and believe; I feel strong, responsible, confident and generally good about myself.
Increased Self-Awareness. When I am self-disclosing to others I am also disclosing to myself. As a result, I keep in touch with my own thoughts and feelings.
Understood by Others. My self-disclosure leads to a more accurate understanding by others of who I am, my thoughts and feelings, my likes and dislikes, etc. Misinterpretations, distortions, stereotypes and other inaccurate impressions of me are minimized.
Decreased Anger. When I am able to act or speak in an assertive way about things that bother me, I have much less cause for long-term anger, frustration and resentment.
Reduced Conflict. When I tell others what my needs and wants are, misunderstandings and conflicts are avoided; as a result some people will draw closer to me, strengthening our relationship.
Fulfilled Needs. More often than not, my self-disclosure greatly increases my chances of getting my important needs met. When others know me and what I value and want, they are more likely to cooperate and assist when I need them. As a result I feel more satisfied with my life. When I let others know that I appreciate them and why, they can feel affirmed and I can feel good about sharing positive feelings. Our relationship is strengthened.
Others Are More Open With Me. When I disclose myself to others, they are likely to share their thoughts and feelings with me. We know each other better.
Self-Disclosure is not without risk, including the potential of:
Increased Disagreement/Conflict. When I am self-disclosing, I leave little doubt about what I believe, feel and value. As a result, others will find it easy to contrast their views with mine; differences of opinion and conflicts of value will become obvious.
Estranged Relationships. Some may feel at a greater distance from me once my views are clearly known. I may change my feelings toward others as a result of their negative reactions to my disclosure.
*I-Messages were created by Dr. Thomas Gordon, founder of Gordon Training International (GTI). Linda Adams, CEO of GTI and the creator of the Be Your Best program added the Declarative, Responsive and Preventive I-Messages to the Gordon Model and for that we are very grateful!