How tuned-in are you?

How to engage and be engaging (or not)

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Either listening to or reading about someone telling you all the things they want, think, need or do. "Well, I went here and I said that and then I did this and then I said that. Well, I mean, who do they think I am? I said ‘well, I want to introduce this now’ and I was adamant. So, I finally got what I wanted." Now as you read that back and notice, in reality, whilst a fairly strident bit of dialogue, it’s entirely possible to hear that every single day in some part of our daily life. Eleven times the word ‘I’ appears - and not once does the word ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ appear.

Speaking like this is simply one thing - dull. You can still pick up the ‘I’s clearly enough, but writing it like this is something else entirely. In written form, they’re so easy to spot as we scan through a message – email, letter, report, article and too many ‘I, I, I’ just switches people off (especially if you start every paragraph with I). We all want to know where we fit in, how it affects us and what’s in it for us.

WII FM – What’s In It For Me? It has been called something along the lines of ‘the radio show everyone’s listening to.’

Notice it. Here’s the rub: In general, people don’t care so much about what we think, want and need as much as they care about what they think, want and need. It is tough for some of us to hear I know, but, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know what people really care about is what they think, want and need. They are always – as we often are – filtering it through that fictitious radio show ‘WII FM?’ So try to make it more about them and less about you. You’re still in there but it doesn’t have to be all me, myself and I. You’re far more engaging and compelling to other people if you make it more about them and a lot less about you.

So when do you use ‘I’?

How I find it works is to make the story, issue etc., personal with ‘I’ and then relate it to ‘we’ so it becomes, for example, ‘I’m so thrilled I’m invited to X’s meeting too. You know it’s going to be good and we’ll learn something about what’s going on. I will make sure the team knows the headlines as soon as I get back’. Notice how it’s become less about ‘I’ and more about ‘us’ and ‘them’ and the ripple effect keeps people engaged and open to you.

‘We’, ‘our’ and ‘us’ is inclusive language. It gives the listener or reader the sense that we are in this together and that they are included. ‘We did’, ‘we know’, ‘as a company we’re striving to’, versus ‘I’, ‘I’m’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘my’ – for the listener or reader it becomes so, well, dull and boring. We've all heard someone 'banging on' like that haven't we? I know I have!

‘There’s no 'I' in team – but there’s 'me', if you look hard enough’. A cute play on the words I know. You are in there and you’re part of the team – whatever your team happens to be, professional, family, sports or friends but it’s not all about you, is it? Or is it?

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Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,