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Transforming Dialogue: How "I" Statements Advance Equity and Understanding

Turns out, that in our journey toward equity and equality, the language we use matters a whole heck of a lot. It shapes our interactions and impacts our ability to create inclusive spaces. Today, I feel urged to try to inspire a pivotal shift from “you” statements, which often perpetuate dominant cultural narratives, to “I” statements that promote understanding and respect for individual experiences. I want to be clear that I am to inspire this practice first within myself but also extend it to my community.

The Power of "I" in Promoting Equity

"I" statements are a communication tool and a pathway to equity. By speaking from personal experience—“I feel,” “I believe,” “I need”—we acknowledge that our perspective is just one of many. This humility is vital in dismantling the assumptions and generalizations that often underpin dominant cultural norms. When I express myself through "I" statements, I’m not just sharing my thoughts; I’m consciously stepping away from imposing my reality onto others, which is crucial in diverse communities.

The Harm of "You" Statements

"You" statements—“You should,” “You must,” “You are”—can unintentionally enforce stereotypes and silence marginalized voices. They assume a commonality of experience or belief that may not exist and can alienate or exclude those with different viewpoints or identities. Recognizing this, I challenge myself and encourage you to reflect on the impact these statements have on our dialogue and relationships.

How to Reframe the Conversation

When you notice someone frequently using "you" statements during discussions, it’s helpful to gently guide them toward more inclusive dialogue. Here’s how one might approach it:

  1. Acknowledge the Intent: Start by acknowledging what the person is trying to communicate. “I see you’re really passionate about this topic...”

  2. Share Your Feelings: Use an "I" statement to express how the "you" statements affect you. “I feel a bit alienated when the conversation includes phrases like 'you must' or 'you should'...”

  3. Suggest an Alternative: Offer a way to reframe their point using an "I" statement. “May I offer an invitation/gentle reminder to try 'I feel' or 'I believe' statements instead? I’ve found they often help everyone feel more included and open to dialogue.”

  4. Encourage Reflection: Invite folx to consider the impact of their words. “Do you think using 'I' statements might change the response you get?”

Take Action: Mind our Language

When participating in a group discussion, I try to take a moment to notice my language. Do I often start with "You should," "People always," or "People need to"? These phrases can inadvertently dictate others’ experiences and limit open dialogue. Join me in trying to shift to "I" statements. You might find this small change can open up conversations in more respectful and inclusive ways. You also might find it frustrating - old habits are hard to shake!

Join Me in This Essential Shift

Are you ready to change your conversations and help build a more equitable community? Join my email list and hop on my journey to create safe spaces! Follow me on Social media and let me know how it's going. Let's have a virtual chat on May 6, 2024. I promise that when we come together and talk about this stuff it gets easier. Sign up over here.

Let’s embrace "I" statements not only as a choice but as a commitment to equity and understanding in every interaction. Together, we can reshape our world, one word at a time.


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