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  • Writer's pictureJoe Miller

PRO TIP: Alternative Uses for “I messages” in Rapport Building

Sometimes bad timing or overuse of "I messages" leaves the person in crisis feeling that the communication is about you, not them. This can undermine your attempts to make threatening and violent behaviors less threatening and violent. I like to use “I messages”, as a way to show some professional humility and make the conversation one between equals,(not talking down to anyone). Maybe the person in crisis is emotional and that comes out as yelling. I could say, “I can’t understand you because you’re yelling at me. Stop yelling”. It’s not bad but it makes the shortcoming theirs. I should say, “ I’m having trouble understanding you when you yell. I’m concerned I’m going to miss something important that you’re saying.” See the difference? The shortcoming is mine. I’m respectfully asking for help with my problem and offering to work together on the solution to our mutual benefit. No threat to the ego of the person in crisis, nothing for them to get defensive about. I also use "I messages" to reinforce and complement any pro-social action or statements they might make. Like I had to tell one of my former supervisors, “ Hey, if I accidentally do something you approve of and you say so, I might do it again”. The same concept applies here. People in crisis are likely not expecting positive reinforcement from you. Getting it may start to challenge some of their negative and defensive preconceived notions about you, and help get you on that vital first step of the behavioral change stairway.

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