How Bullying Language Can Be Disguised as an “I-Statement”

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eye“I-statements can be tricky!  There are gray areas for using them such as with patients or children and they can be misused!  Recently, there was a very active Facebook (FB) discussion involving some inappropriate language and a conflict that was apparent.  (I’ll have more to say about that in a separate blogpost very soon).  In the meantime, I want to examine an excerpt of the conversation because one of the participants seemed to be pretending to use an “I-statement” in the course of blaming, judging, and accusing others.  It is a common ploy that some people use to pretend to show ownership but really don’t.

Yet people are clever and do misuse the format giving an important communication tool a bad rep. Just because you begin a sentence with I feel, does not mean you are creating a healthy “I-Statement”!

Notice how the following statements judge, blame, generalize, and avoid any ownership: Click To TweetNotice how the following statements judge, blame, generalize, and avoid any ownership:

I feel you are an arrogant idiot. 


I feel she never does her share of the prep work.

When I saw the following comment in the FB discussion, I thought, it would be a great example to analyze further.  Take a minute and review it:

I am so frustrated with all the nurses who are trying to be social media stars.  I could call you out by name, but I won’t for now.  You are fake nurses who have failed or are failing at other occupations and you jumped on the “nurse shortage” bandwagon.  It’s not about you [two individuals and an online nurse magazine are named but I won’t repeat that part]. The information is not new or groundbreaking.  It is just regurgitation.

Beth’s commentary:

Where is her ownership about her frustration?   She may certainly be feeling frustrated, but she’s blaming it all on others. Perhaps she is frustrated with something about social media?  Too much stimulation?  Not sure how it works or what to click to make something happen.  I could certainly related to any of these frustrations.  Also, have any of the nurses she is talking about told her that they aspire to be social media stars?  If so, why would someone else’s aspirations be frustrating to her? And if not, she’s being presumptuous.  I personally have no such aspirations although have acquired some social media expertise over the years.

[I could call you out by name] sounds like a threat to me and her comments about nurses being [fake/failing] are judgmental and presumptuous.  (I know some really really really smart and clinically active nurse bloggers too btw although can’t attest to their social media aspirations). Also, [you jumped on the “nurse shortage” bandwagon] is an accusation that also has the distinction of stating an opinion as if it is a fact.  Abusers often do this and are adept at putting others on the defensive with this strategy.

Here are some posts that offer constructive advice on “I-statements”, bullying language, and ownership!

Is an “I-Statement” right for this Conflict?

Bully or Bullying? Why Language Matters in Stopping Disruptive Behavior among Nurses & Doctors

When Words Hurt

Complexity of Asssertiveness

Caring Responses to Uncaring Behavior

41NDhYU4fGL._UY250_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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3 Responses to How Bullying Language Can Be Disguised as an “I-Statement”

  1. Renee Thompson says:

    Nice post Beth. I too have seen “I” statements used to justify judgmental comments and back handed compliments. I’m so disturbed by what I see posted on social media by “professional” people. I think you would agree that posting these types of remarks are a passive-aggressive way of communicating. Thanks Beth!

    • Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

      Thank you for your feedback and comments, Renee. I have seen some passive-aggressive comments on social media and it is disheartening as well as dangerous. It is a tough venue for conflict and all too easy, I think, to be abusive. I try to ‘speak up’ when I see it or perceive it and it is hard. If I don’t, I think I’m tolerating it and as a public figure, worry that I am not role modeling some of the behavior I teach. Still it is hard. I’m glad you are out there doing your work.

      • Renee Thompson says:

        The problem of bullying is so complex and big…it takes a lot of humans like you and me out there doing our part to stop it!

What are your thoughts?