I should start with a disclaimer in that, almost certainly, I will violate my own premise in this month’s issue. After all, “we” seem to do that every now and then – don’t we?
This past year, I’ve become more aware of how one word can change everything – one way or the other. It doesn’t change so much what I say. It changes the context from where I say it.
Once I notice the difference this one word makes, it’s hard not to notice. This is especially true when it comes to sharing my own reflection. My own perspective.
That word is we.
Why I would use the word “we” when I am sharing my own perspective, or my own experience, can be puzzling just in itself. Yet, this happens more naturally than one might imagine. A sensitivity to noticing the “we” word was planted inside of me long ago.
In my years working with an amazing team in Firmwide Recruiting at Arthur Andersen, we were in full throttle to transform the interviewing process for the firm. Little did we know, it would eventually change the interviewing process for the whole profession. This process was a sound, solid, and well-researched behavioral interview approach based on actual historical experiences of an individual candidate.
The interviewer’s role was to mine the candidate’s behaviors from their historical circumstances. There was no benefit or credit given to the candidate when they started sharing what they “would” do. The goal was understanding what they “did” do. Nor was there any benefit or credit given when a candidate responded using the “we” word – whether it referred to the past, the present or the future.
We trained our interviewers to literally redirect a candidate when they slipped into a “we” mode. Not once, but every single time the candidate started to “we.” Our interviewer wasn’t considering hiring everyone in their story. Just them. Yet, there was a more important reason.
I can hide behind my “we” instead of owning my “me.”
I have come to notice that when I’m sharing my viewpoint, if I move from an “I” perspective, it becomes so easy to start waving my we-wand … showering my point-of-view upon everyone. And then how easy it can be to move from sharing to proclaiming to preaching. In doing so, wide-spread assumptions can easily creep into my language and narrative, and ultimately into my conclusions. And before long, in my own mind, I can easily start to wrap everyone into my logic.
In doing so, I no longer must own my perspective on my own.
From there, I can begin to drift from reflect to reflex, from humility to arrogance, and from pondering to pontificating. This isn’t intentional, but rather the way of the we. It is unintentionally moving from the singular to the plural – taking my we-wand and waving my own perspective across everyone else. No doubt, blessing them with my great wisdom! Or not.
It is certainly a way to play the safety card without risking any vulnerability. It can be hard to notice this in myself as I’m doing it. The “we” can slowly creep-in. Yet, if I’m listening carefully to how it comes out of others, I can understand it and become more aware of how “we” can so easily pour out of me.
At least “we” includes “me” and avoids the psychological trap of falling into projection. Yet, when “me” regularly moves to projecting onto “we”, I’m only steps away from my “we” eventually projecting onto you. Although, I digress. As I listen to someone waving their we-wand, the worst part isn’t their “we.”
The worst is that I don’t get to see their “I” or their “me.”
I invite you to join me in noticing this phenomenon when you hear other people sharing wisdom, insights and reflections often waving their we-wand. Not to judge them, but to raise your own awareness. Once you notice it in others, it becomes hard not to see in me.
When I speak from an “I” perspective, I share more vulnerably from myself. I own it. And when I own it, not only can you see it – more importantly, I can also see it. And when I can see it, I can learn more about what is going on inside of me – hopefully bringing a better version of me to you. Somehow, someway, somewhere, on some day it seems that will lead to a better me, a better you – and ironically, a better we.
That’s how I see it. How do you see it? As always, I’d love for you to share your insights below – of course, from an “I” perspective!