As the CEO of a thriving arts organisation, ‘Teresa’ was confident in her skills and yet often sounded uncertain, even to herself. When we explored the language patterns she used, Teresa’s inappropriate use of ‘I’ was evident. Dr Phyllis Mendel, an expert in professional communications, refers to this as ‘the indecisive I’. It is especially common with women and a communication challenge for many female leaders I work with.
How you communicate has a significant impact on your effectiveness as a leader and – given you are the primary audience of your own communication – your self-confidence.
‘I am unable to balance all the competing priorities with the current staffing levels’, Teresa reported to her Board, and the meeting went downhill from there.
There are three key reasons why inappropriate use of ‘I’ weakens your communication.
1. People may blame you for issues that are not yours. In Teresa’s statement above, is Teresa the problem? Is she incompetent?
2. I statements can imply that you are not sure of the facts, and allow your statements to be dismissed as your opinion only. ‘I think…’ ‘I understand …’ are typical examples of this. Teresa advised her Board ‘I have noticed the compliance requirements increasing’ and the Board heard a sense of uncertainty.
3. I statements can make women especially appear immature. Children see themselves as the centre of the universe. Mature professional adults can speak about the world without constant reference to themselves. Teresa often declared ‘I love this organisation’.
So how do you banish the indecisive I? Start the sentence with the subject#. Start a sentence with ‘I’ only when you are talking about yourself.
Here are examples of powerful and confident rewording of the statements above:
• Current staffing levels do not permit balancing all the competing priorities.
• Compliance requirements have increased (15%) in the past two years.
• This is a vibrant and dynamic organisation.
Notice how these statements are clear and confident.
Embracing this simple rule helped Teresa sound confident and clear. The Board’s confidence in her grew, as did Teresa’s own self-confidence. She was delighted to find performance discussions with staff were easier and more effective.
Note – while this rule is simple, applying takes sustained focus and practice.
Cut ‘I’ unless talking about yourself. Start your sentences with the subject to communicate with confidence, power and influence.
Have an Extraordinary Day