Pronouns Matter

By Shelley Roy

Do you struggle to clearly communicate your intentions? Have you found that others misread you when you are speaking. When in a group do you come off as bossy? Three little pronouns can trip you up. How you use, “I,” “We,” and “You” are strong messengers.

The Braggadocious I

When you find yourself using “I” to take credit, you can appear to others to be bragging. “I” is an attention seeking word. Being sure to give credit to others goes a long way in strengthening relationships.

“I” works great when you are owning mistakes, or taking responsibility for past or future actions. “I messed up and next time I will be sure to include you on the email.” “I will take notes at today’s meeting.”

An editor once told me stop writing “I believe.” If you are the author or speaker, your only option is to share your thoughts. You do not need to clarify for your audience that they are your thoughts. It’s redundant. If you are sharing someone else’s thinking let your audience know. Put the focus and attention where it belongs.

Some communication experts recommend “What I hear you saying… “. GAG Me! Saying this shifts the focus to the listener, pulling attention away from the speaker and her message. Instead try – pulling out a few key phrases they have shared; this way they will know you have been listening. You might end with either “Anything else?,” “Have I got it?” or “Did I miss anything?”

The “I”shines the spotlight on you.

“We need to be sure to have this cleared up by the end of the day.” Yikes! Welcome to the use of the “Royal We.” The Royal We is used most often by someone that holds a title, has formal positional power or has assumed informal power. The problem in this use of the word is that there is no “WE.”

What the person means is “YOU!”

If you look up the definition of “we”, you will find that it refers to a speaker and one or more other people considered together. As in “Shall we have dinner together?” We indicates that everyone present will be participating. If that isn’t the case – be specific. Exactly who will or has taken action. Who is the “we”?

So where did the misuse of the term come from? Probably from the second definition – when used in a “formal context” for or by a royal person, or by a writer or editor, “we” refers to himself or herself. Thus the expression the “Royal We.” If you aren’t a member of the royal family, it is probably best if you avoid the royal we. The “Royal We” leads to resentment. Besides, with the proliferation of tweets and texts, who uses formal speech any more?

The Accusatory YOU!

In about 1917, a famous poster became the recruiting message to join the military. It showed a bearded man with a white top hat banded with stars and wearing a blue jacket. One of the most memorable things about the poster is the pointing finger of Uncle Sam. The messaging was that Uncle Sam wants YOU. This image will help you remember to avoid the Accusatory YOU!

If what you are saying could be non-verbally captured with a pointing finger, how you are using the pronoun you isn’t serving you. In fact, whenever you feel the energy shift to your upper body and muscles tighten – like they do when you are about to point the finger at someone – your intent is clearly to accuse the other person (group). Like your pointing finger, “you” can convey blame and shame.

You is best used when it is intended to invite your reader or someone into a conversation. When the message is genuinely welcoming. Would you care to join me? What would you like to add? How would you describe what’s happening?

Another effective use of “you” is to set a friendly tone. Writing or speaking in the third person is considered cold and too formal. As people, we have a tendency to see those who converse in the third person as pompous. Reads differently than – You may find people who converse in the third person pompous. Better yet when your intent is to be friendly or invitation use the other person’s name.

You can easily build relationships or destroy them by your use of “you.”

The Braggadocious I, the Royal We, and the Accusatory You are all reminders that when communicating, our pronouns expose our intent.

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Categories: Opinion


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