The Importance Of “I Statements” In Health Care Settings


                                                         By Beth Boynton, RN, MS, CP

Three nurses are at the nurses’ station. Two are talking about managing a patient’s pain, and a third, Donna, is reviewing a patient’s lab results and finding it difficult to concentrate.

Which is Donna’s best statement?

1) Shhh, stop talking!

2) I’m frustrated with your talking. It’s hard to concentrate, and I’d appreciate it if you would quiet down.

Answer: It depends on the relationships and Donna’s preferences. If Donna has a positive history with them, #1 is probably fine. They’d likely understand how they were impacting her, brush off any feelings of being bossed around, apologize, lower their voices, and move on. Quick and simple.

If Donna doesn’t know them or there is a history of tension or conflict, Donna would be wise to use an “I statement” like #2. This statement shows ownership of what Donna needs and why. It also invites her colleagues to problem-solve with her, a much more collaborative approach.

Practicing effective and respectful communication skills is challenging! It takes time, thoughtfulness, and what works well in one situation may contribute to problems in another. Nevertheless, skillful communication is essential for optimizing all health care outcomes. The more tools that health care professionals have, the better prepared they will be. Here’s one designed to help you decide whether an “I Statement” would be useful in any given situation. The more checks that apply, the more reasons to use one!

“I statement” checklist

I am trying to repair or build this relationship.

I want a solution that will work for all involved.

I value and respect my own opinion, wants, and needs.

I value and respect the opinions, wants, and needs of others involved.

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

I am willing to take ownership regarding the issue.

I am open to ideas from others.

I am willing to compromise or collaborate.

Practicing “I statements” can feel awkward and cumbersome. Underlying skill deficits, a toxic culture, or relentless time pressures are all barriers. They may be easily dismissed as worth doing, especially with relentless time constraints. However, they can also make a big difference in building relationships, navigating conflict, and promoting a culture of safety where all voices are spoken, heard, and respected.

Beth Boynton is a nurse consultant and author specializing in research, training, and writing about emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, and complexity leadership. She’s a pioneer in developing medical improv as a teaching modality for health care professionals.



  • I find using an I message can be used in every day conversation, with a spouse or a child, as well as in the medical field.

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