I Statements: Tips for Avoiding Conflict Escalation

“It takes two to tango.”

Sparring in class.

It takes two to tango. Can you spar yourself???

If there’s an argument or conflict, both people have a part in building it.

There are places and times when it is okay to allow an argument to happen or escalate. (Note that I say allow–you 100% have control of yourself and your responses).

There are also places and times when it is not appropriate to argue, and you must approach a potential conflict differently, in order to be respectful. Here are a few examples:

  • With a teacher at school
  • With your boss at work
  • With a customer at work
  • With an upper belt in the dojo

So, how can you approach such conflicts in a way that minimizes the chance of someone getting upset?

Well, answer me this: when does someone get the most defensive? When they feel like they’ve been accused, blamed, judged, or questioned.

How do you approach a conflict without doing any of that? Answer: The I Statement. Before you use an I Statement, you have to let go of your ego. You also have to take responsibility for and own your feelings.

What does an I statement look like? Something like this: I feel ________ when (describe the situation) because (explain why you feel that way).

I often tell students that I Statements are a great way to express confusion with an upper belt. For example: “I thought that there was actually a side kick there. Is it really a roundhouse kick?” or “I heard you say “second form basic,” but we just did our second one. Am I hearing you correctly?”

See how much more polite that sounds? Does it sound angry or accusatory? Nope, just asking a question to get an answer.

Maybe if they'd used I Statements, this conflict would have been avoided...

Maybe if they’d used I Statements, this conflict would have been avoided…

When you make it about yourself, the other person is more likely to stay calm, try to understand, and try to help. I Statements are an extremely powerful tool for resolving conflicts.

Tips for Making I Statements:

  • Let go of your need to blame the other person
  • Take a deep breath
  • Always begin with I
  • Try to avoid anything that sounds accusing or blaming
  • Don’t twist the I Statement to be accusatory
  • Stick to facts, avoid judgments
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Focus on your feelings & thoughts
  • Try to understand your own interpretation of things, for example, “I feel sad when you forget your forms, because I expected you to be excited about them and remember them.”

The next time you sense an argument incoming, try out an I Statement and see what happens.

About Sensei/YDN Caitlin

Sensei Yudanjanim Caitlin is a 2nd degree black belt, senior instructor, administrative assistant, and student of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Arnis at Northwest School of Martial Arts.
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