The I-message was created by Dr. Thomas Gordon in the 1960s. Over the years, it has been altered, misused, and misunderstood. Let me share with you a bit about what it is and what it is not. In another lesson, you learned that sometimes a sender's intended message does not match what the listener hears, understands, or experiences. The I-message is a way for the listener to let the sender know that their words or actions had a negative impact on them or another person. This can clarify the sender's intent, perhaps they intended for that negative impact. But if they did not intend for their message to have a negative impact, the I-message provides an opportunity for the sender to change their message in some way to better match their intent. At work, when someone is hurt, irritated, frustrated, disappointed, or has some other negative emotion as a result of what someone else has said or done, sometimes that person will assume the other person intended for them to have that negative emotion. It's like when you're driving in your car and someone cuts you off and you think what a jerk, he thinks he owns the road. But you have no idea why they cut you off, maybe they're rushing because they just got a message that their child's in the hospital, or perhaps they'd been working very long hours and haven't had much sleep and they don't even realize they've cut you off. One of the best things you can do for yourself and others is to assume positive intent. I do not mean that you should let other people push you around. My intention is not for you to be naive, but rather to assume until proven otherwise that another's behaviors may have little to nothing to do with you, even when their behaviors are directed at you. When somebody says, emails, or does something that leads you to feel a negative emotion, I recommend practicing turning your first thought to, "I wonder what they really wanted me to understand." The I-message gives you the opportunity to find out. If they did have the intention of you feeling a negative emotion, well, at least you know it was purposeful and then you can decide what you want to do about it. I once was asked to lead a project by someone who I was fairly sure had intentionally misled me about the resources that would be available to run it, and I was really ticked off. But in order to get the project done, I just let it go. Once the project was over, I decided to confront her. I'm driving in my car and I think to myself, "She manipulated me." I was so angry, I was grabbing the steering wheel and thinking, "Yeah, that's what I'm going to say. I felt manipulated when you told me I would have resources that in fact were not available as a way to get me to do the project." Then I realize, manipulated, that's a hot-button word and I was assuming her intent. You can't read other people's minds, and it didn't matter what the tone of voice was. The fact is that when people feel a hot-button word is being said or they feel that you're assuming their intent, they will either try to apologize, they'll feel bad, they'll blame you, or they'll defend themselves, none of which really was helpful. An apology might have felt like a vindication, but it wouldn't have gotten me what I really wanted. I had to think what other feelings and my feeling about this story, about the situation? Because we're complex, we feel a variety of emotions. I didn't need to say the most negative one. In the end, when I got to her office, I said, "I felt frustrated when I discovered after agreeing to do the project that the resources were not actually available. I'd love to do projects like this with you again. Next time, would you be able to give me more accurate representation of the resources?" Because that's what I really wanted. I didn't want an apology and I didn't want her to feel bad or angry, I wanted to do more work with them, but I wanted to know what I was getting into. She purposely agreed and we've worked on several more projects over the years. When you're going to use the I-message, here are some suggestions before you say anything. Clear your mind of any negative thoughts about the other person. Because if you intend to clear something up and you walk up to the person thinking, "This person is such a jerk. What a jerk. What a jerk. Hey, how are you? I wanted to talk about something. Do you have a moment?" Your true thoughts will shine through. You will come across this disingenuous. Bring to mind things that you appreciate or respect about the other person. Consider carefully which of the emotions you experienced to share as the impact. Decide on the outcome you seek before you begin speaking. If you cannot think of an outcome, you're not ready to say the I-message. Move from venting to solution finding. Realize you might have contributed to the situation as well. Do not seek to a fix blame. The only outcomes of blaming the other person or that they apologize, they defend themselves or they blame you back, none of which leads to a solution. Think contribution, not blame whenever bringing up a conflict with another person. Be prepared for them to blame you anyway. Some folks just aren't quite ready to talk about contribution. When you use the I-message, the other person might get defensive, apologetic, or go on the attack despite your best efforts. At that point, most likely they are unable to have a constructive conversation with you. Sometimes you can say, "It sounds like I have upset you. How about if we go for a walk or have a coffee at such and such a time and talk about this then?" Give both of you a chance to cool down. The I-message does not always "work". It's not like a universal key that you can put in a lock and know the door will open, sometimes the key will not work with that lock. That's because every human being is different. Everyone has off days. There are a multitude of things that influence how a person behaves at any given time. If you try the I-message with someone and have a negative outcome, please do not give up. This quote is attributed to Mark Twain, although I cannot find an original source, "A cat who steps on a hot stove lid will never step on a hot stove again, nor will it step on a cold one." Do not give up. My experience has been that the majority of people respond to the I-message positively. Very occasionally you might have someone who will say, "Well, I meant for you to feel that way." "Okay. At least you know, and now you can respond to that." But the majority of time people say, "Oh, that was not my intention." The onetime over my life that a person responded negatively to my use of the I-message, in fact, they were pretty angry about it and they said that I should stop using "ivory tower" language. I spent a sleepless night until the next day, they came to me and said they've thought about it and realized they did not want to send the negative message I had heard and would like to try again. Here are some examples of I-messages that I have used or I've heard that have led to change behaviors without any negative repercussions. Instead of my saying these aloud, I recommend you pause the video and say them aloud as you read them. Practice hearing yourself use the I-message. If you are reading a translation of this in another language, or you are from a culture with these sound odd to your ears, or you just wouldn't use sentences like these as they're written, alter the words to sound more like how you would speak. Ultimately, what you want to express is the impact the person's words or actions had and offer a suggestion for another way to get the point across.