If you guessed “I”, you are correct. Wikipedia lists it as #10 on its list of most common used English words. Number one is “the” followed by “be”, “to”, “of”, “and”, “a” and so on. As you continue reading and as the day goes on, you may notice how often we use the word “I”. Be warned, you may be shockingly surprised to learn how often.
Even though we don’t use the word “I” when playing Scrabble, we do use it often and some of us too much. Maybe it’s because “I” is what we know best and it’s “I” who has something to say. We spend most of our time looking at life from “I” and maybe that’s why we revert to it most. It’s who we are and what we know. But, and that’s a BIG but, it’s possible we use it too much and when we do there are consequences. What happens when we use the word “I” too much? What do we do when we are in a conversation and the other person takes us on an “I” ride? What are you thinking and how are you feeling? What happens to rapport when we are a victim of “I”?
Have you heard the expression “what’s in it for me”? Most people are interested in how something relates to themselves, not the other person. We want to know how we can have or do something. When engaged we want to know how whatever it is being discussed, written or mentioned is going to benefit themselves, not “I”. We are humans and it’s how we are wired. We hear something and immediately try and figure out its relevance to oneself. We can only guess that it serves one person and that person is not you. What if we communicated like a waiter or someone who serves us? What if we were more interested in serving the other person than serving ourselves? Have you ever experienced a waiter letting you know what they wanted for dinner before asking you? If so, what would the tip look like, and would you go back?
The idea of writing about “I” came about here on LinkedIn. I was scrolling through my feed and noticed a video post by someone wanting to share something. Can you guess what word struck me within the first sentence? Can you guess what word kept coming at me like I was being attacked by the “I” bully? I noticed my lip was swelling and my eye was closing. I hit the floor- disconnected and beaten down. The waitress I was hoping to serve me a proper meal turned out to be a prized “I” fighter looking to score an “I” trophy. Am I exaggerating, of course. I can only guess this was not the intent of the person sharing the video. It’s possible this person had something good to share and they got in their own way. Yes, you do it, I do it, we all do it.
What happens when we are conscious of what others want and are mindful about it? What if we were more aware of how we use “I” and the way in which it serves the people we want to serve? I challenge you and I challenge myself to be more aware when using the word “I”. It will challenge us to speak from the first person (I) while being mindful of how the second person (the person we are speaking with) is influenced by what we have to say. It’s possible we all benefit.
If you like fun and want to play around some, here is a great exercise. You can do this in the office, at home or anywhere. Start by choosing a partner or partners. Next, agree with the other person(s), whoever uses the word “I” pays the other person(s) one dollar every time he/she says “I”. It’s fun, expensive and a great way to be more mindful.
I want to thank the person who posted the video inspiring me to write this article. If you are on LinkedIn or any other social platform, or participate in influencing, inspiring or sharing with others, you might consider pausing as you approach the word “I” and consider what the others person wants to eat first. Remember the most ordered item on the menu is the “what’s in it for me”.
Enjoy the ride!
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Robert Paulson is an international executive + leadership coach and can be reached at Info@RobertPaulson.coach