Me, Myself, and I: The 4 Types of “I” Messages

“We” messages help us communicate better within a group, but it’s also important to know how to communicate your own feelings and thoughts to your group without focusing too much on yourself. According to Heidi Burgess’ article (2003), I Messages and You Messages, the easiest way to diffuse interpersonal conflict is to use more assertive language. 



One way to do this is to use “I” messages because they communicate statements about how you feel instead of accusing other individuals of doing something wrong. However, there are four types of “I” messages that you need to be aware of in order to use these types of statements correctly.  


The Power of the “I”

According to Robert Najemy’s article (2004), Effective Communication – I Messages, there are four types of “I” messages that help us communicate with others and while in groups.  It may sometimes be hard to know exactly how to use “I” messages, especially when you may want to use accusatory “you” statements, so we’ve broken down the 4 types of “I” messages (declarative, responsive, preventive, and confrontive) to explain how and when they should be used.  

1. Declarative “I” Messages

Declarative “I” messages should be used when you want to express a need, desire, opinion, or thought (Najemy, 2004). An example of this type of statement would be – “I need to receive recognition and encouragement for the effort and hard work that I put into the group in order to feel needed and secure.” Using this type of “I” message will help you communicate your feelings without causing group tension or starting a conflict.  



Use declarative "I" messages to make your needs, thoughts, and opinions known within your group.

Declarative messages also help you release tension since these types of statements prevent you from suppressing things or blaming other people. It is important to use declarative statements to let other people know how you feel or what you want during a group experience – laying things out on the table will aid the group in preventing uncomfortable situations as the group work progresses.  

2. Responsive “I” Messages

Responsive “I” messages can be used when someone asks you to do something for them or with them. An example of this statement would be – “I would really love to help you on the project, but unfortunately I am already working on another important assignment and won’t have the time to put in the effort that you’re requesting.” You must first decide very clearly how you want to respond. This type of statement should be used when someone asks a favor of you (i.e. to lend something, to help them out, to go out to dinner, to talk to someone for some time on the telephone, to take a position in an organization, or to donate money).  



Learning to say "no" is very beneficial - it lessens stress and anxiety on the job.

Using responsive “I” messages help you practice saying “no” instead of always saying “yes” to favors. This can be especially helpful to women who, many times, feel they cannot say “no” when asked to do something. These statements also aid in lowering stress levels on the job and also prevent someone from taking advantage of you on the job (Najemy, 2004).  

3. Preventive “I” Messages

Preventive “I” messages can be used when you have observed that a problem has developed in the past and you want to avoid the same problem or something worse from happening in the future (Najemy, 2004). An example of a preventive “I” message would be – “I realize that we all had trouble meeting set deadlines on our work the last time we worked on a project. I’m worried it may happen again, so I think we all need to formulate a task schedule and designate a team motivator in order to stay on top of everything this time around.” To use these types of messages, make sure to:  

1)      Take responsibility for what you are feeling   

 2)      Identify your emotions  

3)      Identify what created those emotions  

4)      Identify the behavior of the other person that stimulates those emotions  



Don't let a problem that hindered your group in the past make a repeat appearance - use preventive statements to prevent the problem from surfacing again.

4. Confrontive “I” Messages

 Have you ever been in a situation where someone or something caused negative feelings and, even after a civil confrontation, a change in behavior still hadn’t occurred? If you’re saying “yes,” then this is a time when the confrontive “I” message should be used. Since it’s called the confrontive “I” message, many people think of it as a negative thing; however, using this type of statement can be very helpful – it just depends on how you communicate your feelings.  

When a situation is continually causing strong negative emotions and tension within the group (i.e. someone is constantly negative or verbally abusive with criticism), you need to use a confrontive “I” message (Najemy, 2004). An example of a confrontive “I” message would be – “I understand that you have thoughts and opinions, but the verbal abuse needs to stop immediately or consequences are going to be put into use.” This type of message is more assertive than the other types, but is most similar to the preventive message. For it to be affective, you need to understand how you feel, what is making you feel that way, and why and how the statement should be expressed.   

Use the Power of the “I”

As we stated before, the “I” message is helpful in maintaining good communication within your group, as well as diffusing negative situations that may arise. Knowing the four styles of “I” messages can help you learn how to state your feelings, how to say “no,” how to prevent problems, and how to confront problems in your group in a positive, effective way. Have any of you readers ever used any of the above listed types of “I” messages? If yes, which ones?   


Works Cited

Robert Najemy. Effective Communication – I Messages. June 2004;  

 Heidi Burgess. I Messages and You Messages. October 2003; 





4 Responses to Me, Myself, and I: The 4 Types of “I” Messages

  1. David says:

    Cool post!

  2. ianjarrell says:


  3. […] group, and to make preventive “I” statements you need to follow the four steps listed in our Me, Myself, and I post.  8.      Stay in control of your emotionsWhen you are involved in a negative situation […]

  4. SmallGroup says:

    I like how the “I” statements were broken down. It’s hard not to use “you” statements sometimes, but this post was really helpful into showing when and how it’s appropriate to keep the situation calm.

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