Trigger Questions

Did you say “we” or did you say “I”?

Trigger Question #135 — reading time: about 1.7 minutes

“Right. I will be responsible if the outcome is favorable. But we will be responsible if it is not.”

. . .

By now you’ve surely heard about the (improbable) wisdom of crowds. But have you heard of the anonymity of mobs?

No, you haven’t because I’ve just made it up. But it sounds familiar, and logical, doesn’t it? Because people say and do the craziest things while hiding in mobs. Things they are unlikely to say and do if isolated and visible. (Unless they are on a political podium. But that’s another gang altogether.)

Why do we behave that way?

It is simply the difference between “we” and “I.”

I experienced the difference during my high school years. Painfully. Sometimes the teacher caned me for something I did. Or did not do. And sometimes he canned the entire class because he couldn’t tell the individual culprit from the many potentials.

Let me tell you, being caned as part of “we” hurt a lot less than being caned apart as “I.”

And the lesson I learned? There’s a vast difference between owning responsibility (“I”) and diluting it (“we”).

Which is why I am never surprised when leaders use we-talk when things go badly, and I-talk when things go well. (Disappointed, yes. But never surprised.)

But guess what? We are more likely to follow a leader who owns the bad with I-talk and shares the good with we-talk.

You don’t believe me? Watch your reactions when next you are on the phone with an agent at a customer call center. How does your gut feel when the agent takes personal ownership of your issue with I-talk? And how do you react when you hear the slippery we-talk of corporate policies?

What is my point? Be deliberate in your choice of I-talk or we-talk. Your chosen style has consequences.

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.