I Think vs I Feel

1. “I think.” This part focuses on the facts and your understanding of what’s going on. It should not include judgments or assumptions about the person’s motives. It should not in any way attack. “I think” is a clear description of events and experiences that you need to talk about-and perhaps change. Here are some examples:
• “I think we haven’t spent much time together lately- two nights last week, one the week before.”
• “You’ve billed me for a repair I didn’t authorize.”
• Looking back at the recent past, I think you’ve been late for the majority of our meetings.”
• I’m getting back from the airport late-around 11:00 o’clock- and…”
Notice that there isn’t much hint of emotion in these statements, and there’s no disapproval in the statement of facts.
2. “I feel.” This is an optional component that you’d likely use with a friend or family member but not with your garage mechanic. The purpose is to give a brief, nonpejoractive description of any emotion by the situation. Communication specialists call this component of assertiveness the “I” statement. That’s because it’s about you and your particular feelings. Appropriately, any sense about your emotions should start with I.
• “I feel scared”
• “I feel lonely”
• “Lately, I feel sad about us”
• “I feel hurt, with a twinge of giving up”
• “I feel kind of lost and invisible and more and more disconnected”
• “I feel rejected”
• “I feel hopeful but nervous”
Each example, while naming feelings of varied complexity, never makes the other person bad or wrong. That doesn’t work-it just makes people defensive and less willing to give you anything. Accusations and blame statements often start with the word “you”-so they’re called “you” statements.
• “You’re hurting me.”
• “You don’t care about us.”
• “You’re always late.”
• “You’re ruining our business”
Some people dress up “you” statements to look like “I” statements. This charade is usually obvious because the sentence starts, “I feel that you…”
• “I feel that you’re selfish.”
• “I feel that you’re never home.”
• “I feel that you manipulate me.”
Notice that a judgment, not a feeling forms the core of such communications. It’s certainly safer than an “I” statement-because the speaker is less vulnerable-but it communicates nothing about the emotional experience.
3. “I want.” This component is the whole point of assertiveness, and you need to think it through carefully. Here are some guidelines to follow:
• Ask for behavioral, not additional change. You can’t reasonably expect someone to change what they believe or feel just because you don’t like it. Beliefs and feelings aren’t usually in voluntary control. But you can ask someone to change how they act and what they do.
• Ask for one change at a time. Don’t give a laundry list. That overwhelms people and makes them feel pressured.
• Ask for something that can be changed now. “The next time we go on vacation I want you to…” is a poor “I want” statement because it’ll be long forgotten when the next vacation arrives.
• Be specific and concrete. Vague requests like “Be nicer” don’t get you anywhere because nobody has a very clear picture of what they mean. Describe what new behavior you expect and say when and where you’d want it to come. Asking someone for twenty minutes of help doing research on the Internet is more effective than requesting “technological assistance”
4. Self care solution (optional): Just asking for things isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need to give people encouragement (reinforcement) before they’re motivated to do something for you. The encouragement that works best is a fourth (optional) component of your assertive script called the self-care solution. This amounts to nothing more than telling the other person what you’ll do to take care of yourself if they don’t comply with your request. The self-care solution isn’t the same thing as threatening someone or punishing them. Its purpose is to give information and show that you’re not helpless, that you have a plan to solve the problem.
• “If you can’t leave for the party on time, I’ll take my own car.”
• “If you can’t help with the cleaning, I’ll hire a maid and we’ll divide the expense.”
• “If you can’t find a way to keep the party noise down, I’ll ask the police to help you.”
• “If you want to drive without insurance, I’ll transfer the title to your name and you can take over the payments as well.”
*None of these self-care solutions are designed to hurt the other person; they’re about protecting your rights and taking care of your own needs.

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