I overheard two critical comments in the past week. One person told another person, “We all feel resentment toward you.” Another person said, “He does not want you to go there.” Can you guess why these expressions caused a problem?
PROBLEM: When the speaker starts with “We” or “He”, they are including others who are usually not in the room. If the message is critical, as in the above examples, the “we” makes the receiver feel ganged up on, which is hard to take in. Hearing “he” is difficult to respond to because “he” is not there. So the person feels ganged up on and unable to address the exact person who wants to confront them.
SOLUTION: Speak only from, “I”. The exception in using “we” might be if two parents join together to present something to their family, or a work team presents a mutually agreed upon opinion or finding. Why is this important? Using “I” over “we” respects that you are willing to be open to the response of your listener. Including others piles on pressure and moves the focus away from just you and your listener in the moment. Using “I” gives the listener the opportunity to address the person in front of her. While you may feel uncomfortable exposing your anger, your hurt or some boundary, not using the “I” leaves the listener trapped. She can’t defend herself against, have a discussion with, or respond to the (alleged) feelings of others who are not in the room. She can’t ask for clarification or examples. You are hiding behind an army. This is a fear-based move and bad communication.
What is wrong with telling someone how another feels? Being told, “he does not want you there” is poor form. Even if you know this to be true, it is rarely your place to speak for someone else. You can say, “Ask him about that”, or just stay silent. No good comes out of hearing from a third party the negative feelings someone else may have about us. The only exception would be as a protective measure, when the listener may need to be forewarned in case of danger.
DISCUSSION: Owning your own critical feelings can be difficult. Worrying about angering or hurting the feelings of the receiver may tempt you to include others to buffer your own vulnerability. This is a fear-based move and should be resisted. Own your feelings. If you are angry, hurt or need to set a boundary, tell that to the person directly. It is not my place to tell you how someone else feels about you, unless I think you may be in danger.
TIP: Do you have strong negative feelings toward someone, yet worry that you will hurt their feelings by setting some boundary? Look them in the eye, take a breath to manage your fear and/or anger, and start your confrontation with the word, “I” (I feel or I want or I think). Own your response and present it directly. Dismiss the temptation to cloak your words by using “we” or “he”. Leave out the others. This is between the two of you. For more communication tips, see my award winning 2018 book, #communicationbreakthrough