Some of the best advice I’ve heard on how to give feedback involves the simple switch from “you” phrases to “I” phrases, meaning switching from, “You weren’t as clear as you could have been today in making that point” to “I was confused by the points that you made today, and I didn’t feel like your message got across.” It’s a small shift in language that helps create connection and a sense of shared ownership, instead of a feeling of judgment and separation.
Lately, I’ve found myself pining for a parallel shift of language in big meetings.
In meetings, among polite company, I challenge you to find a lot of “you” statements or a lot of “I” statements. Safe meetings are the world of “we,” as in “we need to think about such-and-such” and “it’s important that we take action to correct this problem.”
Unfortunately “we” as a standalone doesn’t get us very far. “We” abdicates responsibility and ownership and follow-though unless it is followed by “I,” as in, “We haven’t prioritized this important project, and what I’m prepared to do to help is….”
In feedback sessions gone awry, the conversation is all about the other person and how he needs to change. In meetings gone awry, the group and the organization transform to a collective “we” separate from the people having the meeting. We use safe language to create the illusion that “we” is anything other than a collection of “I”s who either will or won’t take steps – starting now, starting today – to make something else happen, something new happen, something hard and important happen.
There’s no “we” but you and me.