In my leadership and communication programs, I often teach how to use “I” language to reduce defensiveness in others, particularly when trying to convey a message that may be perceived as negative. “I” language is a very powerful communication tool in certain situations, but I am often asked – Why not “we”? Good question! So let me answer this question of “I versus We” in today’s blog post.
“We” has an important place for leaders in a business environment, specifically at its most effective when being used to take credit. “We beat this quarter’s sales targets” or “We achieved 99% customer satisfaction ratings in April” are great situations in which to use “we”. It builds team spirit and morale, creates positive energy, and as an extra bonus – makes you come across as a graceful leader. This is true even if it was one person that contributed the most to the great result, because there is nothing stopping you from following up the initial statement with more detail about individual performance. In contrast, replace “we” with “I” in the two statements I just made – I beat this quarter’s sales targets and I achieved 99% customer satisfaction ratings in April – and you’ll quickly see how others may perceive you as arrogant and even tacky.
On the other hand, “I” is at its most powerful when being used to accept responsibility or even take blame. “I was unable to obtain a summary report in time for this meeting” or “I am disappointed about our poor operating efficiency this past month” make you look polished and professional. This is exactly the reason that makes “I” language so effective in reducing defensiveness in others – because you’re taking responsibility for how you feel and behave, you’re less likely to get others’ backs up. You could replace “I” with “we” in these last two examples I just gave you and still be correct, but to really shine and come across positively, use “I”.
Bottom line: if you want your workplace relationships to build and flourish, then use “we” to take credit, and “I” to accept responsibility or blame.
So I’m curious, does your experience support what I’m saying? Do people perceive the use of “we” and “I” the way I have described? Please share.