When The Pronoun “I” May Be More Effective Than “We”

While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.”  While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps.  Communication by implication is fraught with risks.

Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.

“We need to be more responsive to clients.”

“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”

“We need to reduce overtime.”

In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue.  Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”

“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”

“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”

“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”

By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.

I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team.  I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations.  And they do so without diminishing teamwork.


I Am Your Leader; I’m Not Your Therapist

A manager, trying to find out why a good employee began coming in late, said, “You haven’t been yourself lately.  Is something wrong?”

“I’m having some personal problems.  It’s hard to keep my mind on work.”

“What’s going on?”

“My wife and I have not been getting along.”

“When I went through my divorce it was hell. Maybe you need to slow down on your drinking.”

“My spouse has gone on a spending spree. We are having financial problems.”

The conversation continued for another thirty minutes without a resolution.  The manager later explained that he was trying to find the root cause of the employee’s problem.

I think most managers’ fail when striving to find reasons why employees miss work or behave inappropriately.  Managers may even worsen the situation by giving bad advice or enabling dysfunctional behaviors.

Consider two ways to help employees get through a personal wreck.  One, show your concern by honestly laying out the consequences of their behaviors.  Two, encourage employees to visit your Employee Assistance Program where they can receive professional help.

No matter how well meaning, most managers make poor therapists.