Effective Communication

Effective communication is an essential component to healthy relationships. Communication with others involves expressing ourselves and responding to someone else.

Photo of couple walking

Expressing Ourselves

  • When you are stating an opinion, making an observation, or expressing a feeling, the most appropriate format to use is called an “I-statement.”
  • You may even already be using them. I-statements allow us to state things in positive terms, to express ourselves directly and honestly, and to take responsibility for what we think, feel, and need while avoiding blaming or accusing others.
  • In contrast, “You-statements” blame the other person, put him/her on the defensive, and often cause communication to be blocked.
  • To simplify things, we can use a kind of “formula” for I-statements: “I feel/think/want (express the feeling/thought/desire)… When (state the behavior causing it)… Because (identify the reason)…” The nice thing about this formula is that we can decide how much of it we want to use. It can just be the first one, or the first two lines, or all three.

Responding to Others

  • When other people are expressing themselves, it is not appropriate to use I-statements when responding. A more effective technique is called “reflection.”
  • Reflection is saying back, in your own words, the content and/or feeling of what the other person just said.
  • Reflection does not question, challenge, argue, approve, or disapprove. We can use an even simpler formula for reflection: “Sounds like you’re feeling/thinking/wanting (express the emotion, thought, desire you hear…) because (state the reason you heard it…)”
  • Reflection requires us to listen very carefully to what the other person is actually saying. Yet we also do NOT have to be right in identifying the emotion or reason we hear because the speaker will automatically clarify it for us (and sometimes for him/her in the process).
  • What we need to remember is that when we use reflection, the other person is going to continue talking about what he/she is experiencing, so we need to make sure that we have the time to listen.

When we first begin using I-statements and reflection, it can feel artificial. It doesn’t take long for them to become automatic. Experiment with them and you may find that your discussions with other people become much more productive and satisfying.

Retrieved and Adapted from the Virtual Pamphlet Collection: Counseling Services, University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire