Is an “I” Statement Right for this Conflict?

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Three nurses are at the nurses’ station.  Two are talking about the new policy on discharge planning.  The third nurse, Donna, is documenting a new order she just received on one of her patients.  Donna is finding it difficult to concentrate.  Here are two possible approaches Donna could take:

A)  “Shhhhh, stop talking so loudly!”

B) “I’m frustrated with your loud conversation.  It is hard for me to concentrate on writing these orders correctly.  I’d appreciate it if you would lower your voices or find another place to have your conversation.”

Which do you think she should take?

In my opinion, it depends on what the relationships are and what Donna would like them to be!

For instance, if Donna has a positive history of working with these two colleagues, and they have established a pattern of mutual respect and collaboration, then they are likely to take a quick “Shhhhh”, apologize, lower their voices, and move on.   They may also discuss other options such as a quiet place for Donna to go.

If, on the other hand, Donna doesn’t know these two nurses, or there is tension in their relationship and Donna would like to help all involved get to a more collaborative place, then Donna would be wise to use an “I” Statement.   .

“I” Statements can be very effective in many conflicts because they show ownership and respect for other perspectives.   Problem solving involves all stakeholders and commitment to outcomes is inherently increased with a collaborative process.  Since communication and collaboration issues are persistently showing up as root cause factors in safety statistics,  doesn’t it make sense to incorporate communication strategies that will build positive relationships at times?

Here is an “I” statement checklist that you may find helpful. The more of these you find pertinent to your situation, the more helpful such a strategy will be.

“I” Statement Checklist   

Bullet  I am trying to repair, build, or maintain a relationship.

Bullet  I want to find a solution that works for another and me.

Bullet  I value and respect my own opinion.

Bullet  I value and respect the opinion of others.

Bullet  I am willing to disclose an appropriate amount of personal information.

Bullet  I am open to ideas from another.

Bullet  I am willing to compromise or collaborate.

Respectful communication and conflict management are challenging and complex, especially with so much going on in our clinical environments.  Nurses’ time IS precious and sometimes making conversations that help us to build positive workplace relationships is a priority.   As our workplaces become healthier and relationships more respectful, we will need less time for this work.  But for now, becoming more respectful communicators  is an important step that all of us can take towards safer and healthier workplaces.

If you’d like to know more about “I” Statements and assertiveness language, check out my book, Confident Voices:  The Nurses’ Guide to Improving Communication & Creating Positive Workplaces.  I discuss gray areas and disguised “I” Statements in more detail.

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5 Responses to Is an “I” Statement Right for this Conflict?

  1. Pingback: How Bullying Language Can Be Disguised as an “I-Statement”

  2. Jennifer Showers says:

    I am so happy you have an interest in this line of communication. If you can prevent one mistake from happening, I am all for teaching communication skills. I was fortunate to have sound skills when I graduated from college 30 years ago. I have to say that regardless of where on the pecking order the others are in reference to “Donna”, when a nurse is writing orders there should be no distractions and either response should be respected by other professionals on the team. If a healthcare worker has a fragile ego, then they need to move elsewhere as healthcare is a business with too grave of consequences to allow petty behavior to interfere with patient care. I went to work, worked hard, and went home like most of my colleagues. Thank you for bringing attention to this area.

    • Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

      Thanks for your feedback and insights, Jennifer. I agree with your point about the pecking order and med admin. I just watched an interesting talk by Margaret Heffernan about the pecking order and am working on a presentation about status activities from medical improv and how they can be used to build communication, leadership, and collaboration skills. I hope there is some room for supporting ‘ego’ growth, not to make it a constant priority, but allow for a learning curve. Sometimes I wonder if both docs and nurses have challenges here and the former needs to share power and the latter to take more on. Interesting to ponder don’t you think? Here’s the talk in case you are interested:

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What are your thoughts?