Avoiding blaming "you-messages" can enhance communication

Avoid using you-messages that criticize or cast blame on another person for how you are feeling. Learn five ways to appropriately use you-messages.

“Why are you so critical all the time?” “You make everybody feel inferior!” When we’re angry or feeling defensive, statements (or questions) like these are often out of our mouths before we can stop them. But these “you-messages” can shut down a constructive conversation before it even has a chance to begin.

“You-messages” are used inappropriately when they criticize, accuse or cast blame on another person for how we are feeling. In this unconstructive way of communicating, we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings or actions. An example of a blaming you-message is saying “You made me so angry.” Also, beware of starting sentences with “You always” or “You never.” These sentence starters can cause the listener to become defensive and halt communication rather than help to clearly address an issue and successfully solve a problem.

Using “I-messages” on the other hand, is a more constructive non-blaming, uncritical method for expressing our strong feelings and for leading toward problem solving. I-messages include how you are feeling, why you felt that way and a problem solving suggestion. An example of an I-message is, “I was worried when you didn’t get home on time. I was afraid you had car trouble. Next time, could you please call me when you will be late?”

There are, however, appropriate uses of you-messages. According to the Community Based Nurturing Parenting curriculum by Stephen Bavolek of Family Development Resources, five appropriate uses of you-messages are:

  1. To give choices, use in combination with consequences. “Carson, you have a choice. You can clean your room now, or you can clean your room later. However, if your room is not cleaned by 6:00 p.m., you can’t watch TV tonight. It’s your choice.”
  2. To give praise. “You must feel very proud.”
  3. To gain clarification on whether your perceptions of what another person thinks, feels, or needs is accurate. “You seem to be very angry.”
  4. To ask questions. “Are you hungry?”
  5. To reflect feelings by identifying another’s feelings or communicating that you are aware of that other person’s feelings. “Maggie, you seem to be feeling very sad.”

Remember to use I-messages when expressing how we feel or what we need or think. You-messages are our perceptions about how someone else feels or what they need or think. Avoid using you-messages in a blaming or critical way and instead use them in one of the ways listed above. Learning to utilize these tips will improve the success of your communication efforts.

Michigan State University Extension’s curricula R.E.L.A.X.: Alternatives to Anger and the Building Strong Families: Parenting the Preschooler provide additional information on successful communication strategies. Also go to Nurturing Parenting.com for more information on communication and parenting.

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