Tip #6–Speak in first person when telling stories about ourselves

Posted on April 17, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Often people will slip into a type of conversation called “second person” when they are really talking about themselves. Unfortunately, using second person language (you, your) shifts the story from being about us to being about the person listening. Then we run the risk of them losing interest in the story–because they feel spoken at rather than spoken to.

As communicators–people who want others to not only hear but also listen to what we say, being conscious of how we deliver our messages is critical to the success of our communication. Start listening to the conversation of others to hear the shift in their language. Ask someone a direct question about their response to a situation and, 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear them shift from using “I” language to “you” language in their response.

What’s the danger of the shift?

Quite simply, the shift demonstrates a lack of willingness to accept their own responses to situations. Basically, it’s sloppy usage of the language and inadvertently shifts the burden of the conversation from themselves to you. Let me give you an example:

Tony: “Dave, how are you coming along on your chapter of the proposal? Our deadline is Wednesday at 3 p.m.”

Dave: “I’m doing fine. But you know how it is, you have to practically pull teeth to get anything from the engineering department.”

Tony: “What do you mean?”

Dave: “Well, you tell them what you need and you tell them why and when you need it. But they just don’t seem to understand.”

Do you see what Dave did? When Tony asked him a direct question about how he–Dave–is doing on his project, he shifted the conversation from “I” (I’m doing fine) to “you” (you have to practically pull teeth). Dave is shifting the burden to Tony rather than keeping the language and responsibility where it belonged.

What’s the potential result of shifting to “you” language?

The potential result is that your listener stops listening. Defensiveness rears its ugly head, and then communication bogs down or stops all together. While this shift in language may not seem like a big deal, becoming a skilled communicator is. Our responsibility as communicators is to remove the barriers that may inhibit our listeners’ ability to hear our message. Our listeners may not know the difference between “I” and “you” language, but they do know that something about what we said hit them wrong. And when it does, we don’t get the response we want or need.

The burden of good communication is on the person delivering the message. That means to get your job done efficiently and effectively, you (yes, I really do mean YOU this time) must be aware of the potential barriers in communicating and actively remove those barriers. The results will rock your world!

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