There are some communication dangers you want to avoid. And sometimes, they’re sneaky and lurking just out of sight. For instance, you may be thinking everything is going swimmingly in a conversation. Meanwhile, a hidden danger lurking just below the surface raises its ugly fin like Jaws, ready to strike. The threat? The “Hidden You.”

“Hidden You” messages start out great. They sound like “I” messages, which are positive ways to frame your requests, bring up difficult issues, or discuss your feelings. You begin your statement with a phrase like “I feel…” or “I need…” – but then there’s a twist and that hostile “You” comes barreling out of the darkness like a shark going full speed.

Needless to say, “Hidden You” messages can totally destroy conversations.

A “Hidden You” statement like “I feel frustrated when you don’t remember to take out the garbage” will probably make someone just as defensive as a straight-up “You never remember to take out the garbage.” The trick is to be able to say, “I feel upset when the garbage isn’t taken out.”

It should be easy to avoid “Hidden Yous,” right? Alas, it’s easier said than done. Many of us, myself included, have gotten so used to using “You” messages as our go-to way to communicate that using “I” messages instead takes some work. For instance, my knee-jerk reaction would usually be to say something like, “You make me so mad” instead of “I feel angry,” or “You’re always late” instead of “I like to be on time.”

It can take a lot of practice before “I” statements come naturally – and even when you think you’ve mastered them, those “Hidden Yous” can still sneak up on you and may very well turn your mild-mannered conversational partner into a ferocious Great White, ready to defend themselves with verbal teeth bared.

Just remember – those “Hidden Yous” are sneaky and not always easy to spot. With focus and practice, though, you can move into calmer conversational waters.

Want to practice translating “You” and “Hidden You” messages to “I” statements? Post your example here and we’ll work on it together!