The I-message

Post written by Orsolya Hernold


My kids wanted to learn to play an instrument so I searched for a teacher who would teach them over the summer holiday. We picked the flute as something easy to start with. The first classes were fun but after the fourth one, my daughter was swallowing her tears when I asked how the class went. I was at home during the class in another room and overheard what happened, and together with my daughter’s reaction, I decided to give a constructive feedback to the teacher.

What happened during the class? As opposed to my expectation of teasing my kids into liking music and learning to play an instrument, the teacher was more interested in discipline and scaring my daughter with the school she was about to start in September. She even imposed punishment (!) on my daughter for not doing right away what she was told to do (she got up from her chair instead)–during a voluntary summer class!

I missed the chance of talking to her personally because she had already left by the time I found out the profound effect she left on my daughter so I decided to write her a letter. (I must admit, though, that I was so emotionally involved at that moment seeing my daughter’s anxiety, that I probably could not have given the most effective feedback.)

My letter started with pointing out the pleasant atmosphere of the first classes to give positive reassurance right at the beginning, then I listed the concrete words and deeds that happened (scaring with school, punishment, not allowing to stand up) and explained why we as a family (and actually the school my kids go to, too) do not approve of such educational methods. I finished with requesting her to change her conduct at these points. Rereading my message it was explicit but fair.

A month after I sent my email, I had the opportunity to experience what it feels like saying these words out loud. I needed to give an example of the ‘I-message’ at an assertive communication training as a trainer. I imagined this teacher to be sitting in front of me and expressed her my feedback this time verbally.

The model of the ‘I-message’ was introduced by Thomas Gordon in his book: P.E.T.: Parent effectiveness Training. The ‘I-message’ has 3 components: the feeling I feel due to the situation, the description of the situation that caused the feeling and a request that I would like to happen next time instead of what just happened. Gordon’s model is quite similar to the concept of nonviolent communication introduced by Marshall B. Rosenberg (both of them were students of Carl Rogers). Nonviolent communication has four elements: objective observation and description of the situation, feelings the situation caused, the need the situation violated and a request for a specific action from the other.

At this training we chose to use Rosenberg’s model, so here are my sentences to the flute teacher:

Observation: I heard that you said this sentence to my daughter. ‘From September in school, you cannot just get up anytime you want to.’

Feeling: This sentence upset me, I felt alarmed.

Need: It is important for me that my daughter looks forward with a positive attitude to school.

Request: Please, during next class do not use school as an example to discipline a behavior you disapprove of.


Even though it was my co-trainer I was speaking these words to I got quite emotional and I could not have made it without looking at my paper where I wrote my notes. Using I-messages and nonviolent communication involves sharing my emotions with the person I am in conflict with. I learned from this one minute exercise that I need more real life practice, enough bravery to acknowledge my own feelings and needs, and increased self-awareness to identify my feelings arousing in a situation right away to apply this theory in my life. A way to go.



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