Self-Revealing Communication: A Vital Bridge Between Two Worlds
by John Amodeo and Kris Wentworth
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Self-Revealing Communication: A Vital Bridge Between Two Worlds," in Bridges Not Walls, ed. John Stewart, 6th edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), pp. 206-210
The authors discuss the importance and power of self-revelation in communication.
Use of I-Statements
I-statements can be contrasted to you-statements. Consider the difference between saying, "I feel as if I'm not being understood," and "You aren't really listening to me." The authors describe I-statements as statements that "disclose our experience without attacking others, invalidating their feelings, or criticizing them for not meeting our needs or conforming to our point of view."[p. 206]
You-statements tend to be perceived as intrusive, blaming, or attacking. They are manipulative or coercive, in that they seek to change the other person's behavior. Such statements often provoke a defensive reaction, which typically takes the form of either a hostile counter-attack, or withdrawal from the conversation. Hostile retorts tend to escalate the destructive communication cycle, and promote mistrust. Withdrawing tends to suppress needs and feelings, which can then erupt with greater force in later communication.
I-statements on the other hand can halt this defensive and hostile escalation process. Expressing one's own feelings and needs tends to evoke trust and sensitivity on the part of the other. Such self-expression is non- manipulative. This then creates the space for the parties to explore the "unacknowledged feelings, meanings and unmet needs that are at the source of the difficulties."[p. 207] Thus, self-expression, by providing an opportunity for better understanding, is also empowering. The authors acknowledge that "a basic assumption behind self-revealing expressiveness is that if people see who we really are, how we really feel, and what we really need, they will tend to respond to us in an accommodating manner."[p. 208]
The Power of Vulnerability
Such self-revelation does entail vulnerability. However the authors argue that vulnerability can be powerful, in at least two ways. First, they observe that "responding from a confident center within our vulnerable inner world reflects a special kind of inner strength."[p. 209] Conversely, being forceful and aggressive often masks deeper insecurities. Second, self-expression leads to more effective communication and understanding, which in turn fosters greater trust and intimacy. It can cause the other party to change their behavior by their own choice, whereas a more coercive approach would simply provoke defensiveness and distancing.
Finally, self-revealing communication has transformative potential. In the larger picture, the authors point out that "personal growth is largely a function of our capacity to be with these feelings [of fear, sadness, anger, hurt, shame, isolation and desire] in an accepting, sensitive manner."[p. 210] When we practice self-revealing expressiveness we are developing just such a capacity in ourselves, and are encouraging it in our partner also.