XYZ Statements

By Audrey Kasting, Relationship Rx Facilitator

One of the communication skills we often teach in our workshops is called XYZ Statements. These statements can be used for both complaints and compliments. Many find this formula useful for voicing a complaint because it is a direct, yet more gentle way to send a difficult message. Though this formula was created with couple communication in mind, they work not only with your partner, but are good for sending messages to your children, friends, and colleagues as well.

The name “XYZ Statement” comes from the makeup of this tool. There are three components to each of these statements, that is, an “X,” a “Y,” and a “Z.” Below are the explanations for each part, and some examples as well.

  • X: The first part of the statement picks out a specific behavior that bothered or upset you. Picking out a behavior helps you to avoid criticizing your partner. Saying, “When you left your socks on the floor,” is more specific and more helpful than saying, “You are so lazy.” Criticizing someone’s character like this, or name-calling, not only makes it difficult for that person to hear you and be understanding, but it is generally just unfair. When picking out a behavior, avoid name-calling. If you are giving a compliment, pick a behavior that you liked or really appreciated!
  • Y: The middle part of your statement, or the Y, is simply making X more specific. Many times, it is helpful to say when the specific behavior, or X, happened. For example, “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday,” helps your partner know exactly what you are referring to. I know what some of you are thinking: What if my partner does something that bothers me often? Even if your partner does something often, avoid using “always,” or “never,” as these lead to criticisms and unfair blanket statements. Y can sometimes be more general, as long as it still helps your partner to know exactly what you are talking about. See other examples below. Again, same rule applies for compliments – just make it more specific.
  • Z: The last part of the statement is critical, because here you tell your partner what you are feeling and why, or how you were affected. By focusing on your own emotions or experience, the statement is then less blaming and easier for your partner to hear and digest. For example, “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed.” Sometimes more of an explanation here can be helpful: “When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed because I worked hard to clear the floor in order to vacuum the house.” If you’re giving a compliment, this is a good opportunity to tell your partner how he or she made you happy, and to show gratitude.
  • **Additional thoughts: When someone tells us about something we did to upset them, it is always a little hard to hear, no matter how nice it is worded. It is natural for someone on the receiving end to feel a little defensive. For this, I have two suggestions:
    • Pick the time wisely to tell your partner your complaint. If you are already in the middle of a fight, and things are escalated, chances are this probably won’t go as well. Or if you or your partner are already highly stressed or upset about something else, it may not be as well received. Don’t put it off too long, but use your best judgment as to when you think your partner might be a better listener.
    • Expect a little defensiveness. Give your partner room, and don’t snap back into criticisms if your partner doesn’t hear your complaint right away. If you are on the receiving/listening end, be open-minded. Respect that your partner took the time and put thought into using an XYZ Statement instead of using hurtful criticisms.
  • Though the formula is somewhat simple, these statements take practice! Be persistent and keep trying.
  • And remember: this formula is for compliments too! See examples below.

Examples:

The statements below are color-coded to help show each component. X is in purple, Y is in blue, and Z is in green.

Compliments:

  • When you asked me how meeting went after I got home, I felt really loved.
  • When you hug me when I’m sad, I feel very comforted.
  • When you helped me do the dishes last night while I cooked, I feel relieved that there was less to do before we went to bed.
  • Because you’re supporting me while I look for work, I feel very grateful.

Complaints:

  • When you left your socks on the floor yesterday, I felt annoyed because I worked hard to clear the floor in order to vacuum the house.
  • When you hung up on me during our argument the other night, I felt hurt.
  • When you didn’t make sure you were free for our scheduled date night this week, I felt disappointed.
  • When you threaten to end the relationship when you’re upset, I feel scared.

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