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You-messages can work for and against you

Following on from my previous post ‘How to get your message across respectfully’ the other way we can communicate is using You-messages. In You-messages, the message contains either you or you’re in it. For example, ‘You make me so angry when you don’t clean up after yourself.’ Using a You-messages blames the person for the situation and judges them. So it pays to know when to use one.
When someones behaviour is inappropriate or needs to change do not use a You-message. This is because it can blames others, hold others responsible for the feelings of the speaker as well as can include putdowns. It causes feelings in the receiver that can make them become defensive and start making excuses. This can make the situation worse.

Check out these examples:
  • I feel angry when you call me names.
  • I feel hurt when you don’t ask what I want to do.
  • I get suspicious when you’re telling me one thing then I find out you’re doing another.
You can imagine the speaker pointing the finger and even shouting. This is when to use an I-message.

So the time to use You-messages are when the person has done something good and you want them to continue to use that sort of behaviour. This will reinforce and reward good behaviour and make it more likely to happen again in the future.

  • You have done a great job in cleaning up after yourself. Thank you.
  • I really appreciate it when you ask me what I want to do.
  • When your honest about what you have been doing that builds the trust I have in you.

Now some may have noticed that some of my examples have a I-message and a You-message combined like: “I feel angry when you call me names’. I will leave that for another post to explain what that is all about. But for now remember to use You-messages to thank, reward or express appreciation for something. Use I-messages to help them understand that something needs to change.
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