In therapy circles, the "I Statement" reigns supreme. Our first interpersonal psych classes taught us this method for helping people communicate their feelings in a concise, healthy way: "I feel (an emotion), when (a certain thing happens), because (why it matters to you)." We learned it, we practiced it, and most of us kinda forgot about it. It's one of those skills that is simple to say but not easy to do, and even harder to convince clients to use in their own lives.
Today I was pondering a way to stay neutral when receiving a message that feels like criticism. Many of us have an instant reaction when we think we've done something wrong and our nervous systems respond as though we're in Big Trouble. Common emotional responses are guilty apologizing, shrinking in fear or shame, puddling into sad tears, or angrily avoiding the conversation.
Maybe if we have a healthier, more assertive approach at the ready, we won't need to sink into any of these uncomfortable responses. Behold, the Reverse I Statement! With this approach, we can look the other in the eye, rather than feeling inferior or unworthy. And we can say: "I heard you say that when I (my action), you felt (an emotion), because (their interpretation of the event)". Then stop talking. Let them respond to your statement-- they will likely either agree or correct you. Continue rephrasing what you hear them say until you have achieved complete understanding of their concern. No apologies, no tears, no shouting.
Once the other has been heard, they will likely be more receptive to hearing your side of the story. Now you can swoop in with an I Statement of your own, or something simpler if you need more time to process your thoughts and feelings. It's perfectly ok to ask to return to the conversation after you've had some time to collect your thoughts.
Many of us struggle to find the right words when we're not prepared for a conversation, so the Reverse I Statement can come to our rescue by taking the pressure off us to come up with just the right response. Try it out and share your thoughts in the comments!