Biz Tips: The problem with using “I” all the time

Biz Tips: The problem with using “I” all the time


The problem with using “I” all the time

How to be more neutral and have things your way, every time.

“I did this.”

That’s a quote every boss uses when his team succeeds. He tells it out loud.

Coincidentally, this is also something every employee says too when the team succeeds because of him. He tells it to himself.

“I” statements are a glib. There’s no doubt about that. They can be really inspiring at times, and nerve-wrecking in others. So, what should you resort to in your conversations?

In one case scenario, “I” brings down the degree of intensity of a bad situation. Suppose you and your co-worker are at gunpoint for missing a deadline.

“I feel frustrated that I didn’t strategize my efforts.”

See? That doesn’t make someone feel like they’re under attack. It doesn’t point fingers or addresses the need for a blame game. Of course, in reality this practice is hard to become habitual, but it helps decision making less sour and more civil.

This article will teach you just that.

A team that plays together, stays together

Practicing humility over arrogance

Not every game that you play will have great outcomes. Some star players and key members of the team f*ck up sometimes. But if every football or cricket team were to reshuffle and change players because of blame game every time, I’m sure the idea of great “sportsmanship” would only be limited to the Nazis.

The implication here is that these quotidian “I” statements work best when you have a personal relationship with someone. They could be a friend or sometimes, an acquaintance. It fosters interpersonal relations and helps in easy transfer of beliefs.

In most cases, business leaders and managers do the opposite of exhortation. It is good management practice to be humble and practise wide scale solidarity, as it inspires the organization as a whole to be more receptive to learning and criticism.

Arguably, such practise is either concentrated to one part of the entire chain or is seen only at an individual capacity. We’ll get to this later.

Often, such controversial “I” statements backfire when you’re having an open ended conversation, say before a board or a division. Here’s what you can do to avoid being in a sticky situation or becoming a victim of the epidemic of “corporate miscommunication”:

“I” can symbolize grave moral disbelief:

Don’t get lost in your own feelings-you’ll implode in the corporate world

For a moment, let’s assume that you’re discontent with a certain decision that your executive team is planning to make.

Now, you can outright condemn their efforts (read: you’re finished) or you can showcase how much that decision could affect the whole organization.

The problem is, repeatedly using “I” will make your peers and colleagues feel that your sentiments have been hurt and that you’re prioritizing yourself and your own feelings over the growth of the organization.

These are really delicate situations and so I suggest that you prepare your case before you present. Get your facts and figures on paper, and probably a few use cases to convince them that as a boss, you have a personal stake in the business and your outburst is justified by numbers.

This will make you seem more approachable and inspirational, as you are a man of action. A man who does is homework and has his every action justified.

Play the neutral and impersonal game:

It matters how you present difficult situations as well. Most times, uncomfortable situations need to be presented as a detour rather than the actual problem itself.

The bald truth is the most people listen to respond. They don’t just listen. So if you want the other person to be more open minded to what you have to say, you have to identify and make a guess as to what might affect them.

It’s easy enough to assume certain ways that will immediately trigger a negative response, so avoid that.

Sometime back, I was debriefing a colleague on a certain situation he had encountered in a co-working space. He had a cabin for himself, and so one day the manager of the co-working space comes up to him, and says that he’ll have to vacate the room for a couple of days for some maintenance work.

He said that he could either sit outside by the windows, or he could share space with somebody else in their cabin. Needless to say, my dear colleague found this episode to be quite vexing. He hurled curses, threats and despite his best attempts to stop the manager, nothing seemed to work. My colleague’s actions were actually justified. Apparently, the manager used words like:

“I really need you to give up your cabin for a few days.”

“I’m really trying to do what’s best for you.”

The problem with such statements is that the receiver feels like you’re trying to do what’s best for yourself, and are only pretending to care. I mean, if you really did care, you would change the maintenance schedule or wouldn’t ask me to compromise on my comfort. But the way you phrased it seemed more like an ultimatum. For this reason, my colleague’s agitation was bearable.

Bosses and leaders encounter such situations all the time, be with their peers, seniors or juniors. Unintentionally, the right situation is put the wrong way and that negativity spreads like prairie fire.

How do you combat an unsuspecting situation like this?

Use a more neutral, impersonal way of speech. Give others the freedom of choice, and ask for opinion. Your object is not to inform, but to gain a mass vote on something. You might be leading them but they’re not sheep.

“Unfortunately, we’ll have to close this room down for a few days due to maintenance. However, I’ve got two options at my best disposal, so let me know what you’d prefer. If you have a better idea, I’m open to hearing and considering it.”

Don’t let your guard down: you’re only telling people that you are weak

It’s not uncommon that as leaders rise up the hierarchy in the organisation, they are less likely to be empathetic and humble.

Don’t even expect them to show any sympathy towards you. The only thing that will matter to them is what you can or cannot bring to the table. Sometime back, I recall being in a similar situation with my co-founder. The situation wasn’t too grave, but it involved conflicting ideas that led to bad arguments.

I was in charge of branding and designing of the website. I told him that I’d go with using Helvetica as the company’s primary font, and I specifically emphasized why I loved the font so much.

He was against it and put forth his own argument about another font, which he found appealing.

We couldn’t really decide and this wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we were both trying to demonize each other’s perspective and it felt more like emotional blackmail. Difference of opinion is a common occurrence that often lead people to believe that their point of view is being outright rejected, solely due to their inability to see it from the other person’s perspective.

This resistance of “I” leads to irritation, and then frustration and finally to escaping responsibilities.

The way out of this?

Avoid bringing the personal impact element in such situations.

Emotional content pisses people off. Being emotional doesn’t work when you’re trying to be persuasive, and if someone out there is smart enough to know what you’re doing, they’ll assume that you’re nothing but a dirty manipulator.

In my case, both of us brought in our personal reasons for using the font, and our personal descriptions of good design. Instead, bringing in more scientific analysis and removing ourselves out of the equation would’ve struck gold.

It’s good to have a personal stake, a personal conviction in every business decision that you make. The only mistake you’re probably doing is that you’re confusing personal with emotional.

Highlight what’s good for the business based on facts and figures, and have a personal stake in the efforts of coming to a palpable solution rather than having a direct stake in final decision itself.

You should aim to be a people’s leader, not the company’s dictator.

Thank you 🙏 for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it 😋. Please do share and comment your thoughts below! Lastly, don’t just sit there- APPLAUD!

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