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Talk Tip: The “I’s” Have It

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Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?

The old adage of, “It’s not what you say but how you say it,” has never been so true. Professional women are intelligent, savvy, excellent communicators but still find themselves scratching their heads wondering why what they are communicating is not being heard.

Try this tip on for size …

The “I’s” have it. What do the “I’s” have? The “I’s” have a sneaky way of creeping into your speech and sabotaging you. By starting your communications with “I think,” “I feel,” etc., when the subject of the sentence is not you. You distract the listener by inviting them to focus on you versus focusing on the point at hand. Here are some common phrases (see if you can hear yourself saying them):


  • I have a problem with Kerry’s work ethic.
  • I feel like I’m being overlooked.
  • I don’t feel I can meet that deadline; I have too much work left to do.
  • I think we need to pull together as a team.


So what’s wrong with those statements, you might be asking? Let’s break it down.

What are you trying to get the listener to focus on? (Hint: the answer is Kerry’s work ethic and that her work ethic is a problem). By starting your sentence with “I have a problem,” you have made yourself the focus and guess what? You have just told the listener you have a problem. You don’t have a problem, Kerry does. Kerry is who needs fixing, not you. See what I mean? Kerry is the subject of the sentence, not you (kind of makes you shiver thinking of seventh grade grammar, doesn’t it?) But it is true. So you have self-sabotaged by deflecting the attention in the wrong direction. A simple rephrase: Kerry’s work ethic is a problem. Now that conveys your message.

The “I” Statement:


  • I have a problem with Kerry’s work ethic.
  • I feel like I am being overlooked.
  • I don’t feel I can take that on and meet the deadline; I have too much work left to do.
  • I think we need to pull together as a team if we want to meet our goals.


Perception:
The problem is you and yours to fix.
Whiny. Victim.
You’ve mismanaged your time.


Rephrase:
Kerry’s work ethic is a problem.
The process prohibits equal input.
Additional resource will be needed to make that happen.
Teamwork is critical to our success.

Listen for others’ use of “I” (when they are not really the subject at hand) and jot down how you would rephrase it.

Have someone listen to you in a meeting or professional conversation and write down three instances where you used “I” when you weren’t the subject of the issue. Then say the rephrase out loud. (Really, do say it out loud—it makes a big difference in creating the habit.)

Craft what you want to say in your next meeting by writing down your main points, making sure you state your message without the “I’s” having it.

Go knock ’em dead!

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