How to Use I Statements When Confronting Bullying

How to remove the accusatory tone when dealing with bullying

two employees holding a discussion

 “I” statements are one of the most powerful communication tools. Used correctly, they can remove the accusations from your statements and allow you to express your feelings and your point of view without immediately getting a defensive reaction from the person on the receiving end.

“I” statements are especially effective when you are confronting a bullying situation at work. Ideally, you should use “I” statements when you need to confront someone about his behavior or when you are bothered by the way someone is treating you.

When people hear “I” statements they typically have more empathy and are more receptive to you than when “You” statements are used. Even when a discussion is emotionally-charged, “I” statements help individuals remain more civil toward one another because the person making the statements is being honest about their feelings and taking ownership of them.

How to Put Together an “I” Statement

  • Use statements like “I feel” followed by an accurate description like “I feel sad” or “I feel hurt.” Do not add the words “like” or “that” before the feeling because saying “I feel like” is an expression of a thought and does not convey what you are truly feeling.
  • Avoid using disguised “you” statements. These include comments like “I feel that you…” Putting an “I” in front does not make it a genuine “I” statement. This is still a "You" statement.
  • Remember that accentuating negative feelings can make the person on the receiving end feel defensive. Instead, try to balance your “I” statements with some expressions of appreciation too.
  • Make sure your “I” statements match the intensity of your feelings about the situation. Do not dilute your message. If you do, you will minimize the impact and your message may be lost.

How to Communicate Using “I” Statements

  • Step 1: State your feeling. Start with the word “I” and state your real feeling only. In other words, say: “I feel sad.” Most people have a tendency to assign blame first while downplaying the feeling. For instance, people often say: “You are so rude” instead of saying “I am offended” or “I feel out of the loop.” The “You” statement causes a defensive reaction from the other person. Remember, an “I” statement keeps the focus on your feelings, which is less likely to cause a defensive reaction and more likely to promote effective communication.
  • Step 2: Connect your feeling to an issue. Once you have stated your feeling, follow up with an issue or an event. For instance, you can say: “I am offended by jokes about my weight” or “I feel left out when I am not included in lunch meetings.” Although there is some mention of the other person’s behavior, the focus continues to be on the uncomfortable feeling experienced by you. Ideally, this fact will allow the other person to focus on helping to alleviate the discomfort rather than defending himself or shifting blame.
  • Step 3: State what you want to have happen. Finally, give a solution. Your statement might look like this: “I am offended by jokes about my weight and I would like them to stop” or “I feel out of the loop when I am not included in lunch meetings and I would like to be invited the next time.” The focus stays on your feelings and the goal you want to accomplish. While there is no guarantee that the office bully will honor your request, you have expressed your feelings and asked for change. Doing so goes a long way in keeping you from remaining a victim. It also will give the bully pause because you are not cowering under his bullying.

Keep in mind that using feeling statements takes practice and it may be hard to use them consistently, especially at first.

However, if you want to confront workplace bullying in a respectful and dignified manner, this is the best route to take. Everyone can learn to use “I” statements and benefit from the non-accusatory communication.