How to Use "I" Language

“I” language is a conscious effort to use “I” instead of “you” when speaking to the other person. In any conversation where conflict is involved, perhaps with a colleague at work or with your significant other, “I” language is a great way for a person to express his/her point of view without putting the other person on the defensive.“You” language is the verbal equivalent of pointing a finger at somebody. In “I” language, there is no verbal finger pointing.


  1. Image titled Transgender Guy Thinking.png
    Understand your feelings. Using "I" language forces you to put the focus on yourself and your feelings. If you don't know what you're feeling, you will not be able to articulate that to another person in a conversation. But make sure you understand why you’re experiencing a particular emotion. Often, emotions such as anger are only a cover emotion—the real emotion might be fear or vulnerability. Once you understand the real emotion, you put yourself in a good position to use “I” language to explain yourself.
    • What is the root cause of your feelings? Why does it cause you to feel the way that you feel?
  2. Image titled Relaxed Woman Talking.png
    Rehearse what you’re going to say in your mind before you actually initiate the conversation. You’ve already made the effort to understand your feelings so you’re ready to articulate them to the other person, and rehearsing the conversation will allow you to organize your thoughts so you can present them in a straightforward way to the other person. The rehearsal will also give you the opportunity to practice.
    • Using “I” language is difficult. It’s easy to tell another person “You did this” or “You did that.” It’s harder to explain to the other person why the action is upsetting to you.
  3. Image titled Clock at 4 o clock.png
    Choose when to have the conversation. Sometimes, you’ll have to have the conversation right away after a particular action (perhaps at work). Other times, the conversation doesn’t need to happen right away. If you’re having the conversation with your significant other, choose a time and place where you’re both comfortable.
  4. Image titled Man Talks To Friend.png
    Initiate the conversation using an “I” statement. This way, the other person won’t be put on the defensive, and they will be able to listen more effectively.
    • “I need to talk about something.”
    • “I have a problem that I need to talk about.”
  5. Image titled Man Covers Mouth.png
    Avoid absolutes such as "always" or "never." These frequently sound accusatory and make (often unflattering) generalizations about another person's behavior. Assume that the person means the best. The more non-accusatory you sound, the more likely the person is to respond well.
  6. Image titled Transgender Guy Talking.png
    Use the "When _____, I ______" format. This format focuses on a situation and your feelings, and avoids making assumptions about the other person's intent.
    • "When I come home from a long day at work and see dirty dishes in the sink, I feel overwhelmed and unappreciated."
    • "When you tell jokes about immigrants, I feel really uncomfortable and insulted. I feel like I'm not welcome in my own country, regardless of my individual heritage, because of my race."
  7. Image titled Woman with Bindi Talks to Friend.png
    Allow the person to respond. Just as you have the right and ability to open up about your feelings, it's important that they have the opportunity to express theirs. Listen closely and understand their response.
  8. Image titled Woman Talks About Her Feelings.png
    Use "I" language in other forms. The "when ____, I _____" is a useful template, but it is not the only way to use "I" language. Here are some examples of in-depth explanations of problems using "I" language.
    • "I'm a little angry because I didn't get a 'got home safe text' from you after you went out. I got afraid that maybe something happened to you when you didn't reply, and that fear caused me to get a little angry."
    • “Hey, Jocelyn. I want to touch base about that information we talked about last week. I need to take care of this particular task that I’ve been assigned, but I can’t make any progress until I get the information.”

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions