The value and importance of using “we” instead of “I” when communicating with clients is remarkable. Yet within my own agency, I see emails and hear conversations with clients that frequently disregard this reality. The mistake is rarely intentional, but can be committed by people of all levels of experience (myself included).
The Weakness of “I”
I’ll never forget the first time I experienced this from the client’s perspective. Several years ago before my agency did its own research, we hired a highly reputable firm to assist us in a client engagement that required working with a large volume of data and analysis.
This was a $60k piece of a project that culminated in a big presentation with the client, our agency and the research firm (who presented). As the analyst made her presentation, these are the kinds of statements we all heard:
- “The way I went about getting meaning from this data was…”
- “I think the meaning of this data is…”
- “I spent a great deal of time doing…”
- “I feel like this is a direction that…”
- “My biggest challenge was…”
- “I believe x, and so I recommend y”
Instead of focusing on the research, I found myself fixated on the personality and showmanship of the presenter. I began getting the feeling our client’s investment in this service was basically predicated upon one individual’s solo effort.
As her personal interpretation of the data was consistently emphasized, I started wondering how relevant her experience and point of view really was – and I became doubtful about any level of collaboration she may have had with others to arrive at the insights she professed to uncover.
Respectfully, I wanted to tell her I no longer wished to hear about what YOU thought or felt or did. What if YOU missed the mark? My client shouldn’t be wondering if they paid for only YOUR methods, thoughts and feelings about the data YOU collected.
The Difference We Makes
When you speak in terms of “we,” instead of “I,” you communicate:
- Validation from other professionals in your organization
- Confidence and credibility connected to the brand and team you represent
- You are not alone in this (and your client is not alone in this with you)
- A consistent accountability and benefit pertaining to a collective expertise that goes beyond your personal experience and capabilities
- Appreciation and inclusion of others who work with you
Why We Say I
Our intentions are good, and when we care about doing good work it becomes personal to us. When I’m passionate about my work, and know what I’m doing as a professional is helpful to what you (the client) are paying me to do – it’s natural to tell you about what I’m thinking and feeling.
Whether it’s recognition, validation or appreciation, I want you to know I’m working diligently to serve you well. I’m the one you are frequently talking to, and I am in the position to communicate the answers and solutions you are looking for.
All good. But here’s the issue: You didn’t hire me. You hired my agency. You considered the agency’s clients, methods and experience as part of your hiring decision. And although you are counting on me, your ultimate and rightful expectation is that my agency will provide the collective experience and expertise to ensure your success (even in the event I’m no longer working with you).
Here are some useful tips to help break the habit:
- Re-read your emails before you send them. You do this anyway, right? Look for opportunities to replace “I” with “we.” Tip: suggestions, requests and references to best practices should typically be in the context of “we.”
- Practice this in your spoken word to clients. This is actually a lot tougher than it sounds. I’ve known people to keep a sticky note on their monitors with one big word written on it to help them curb a habit they weren’t even aware they had: “WE”. When you catch yourself saying I, quickly correct yourself. The client will actually appreciate you are giving credit to others, regardless of who the others are.
- Keep it real. This isn’t about fabricating facts or language to suggest something that isn’t true. If you find you are working in a silo to the extent you are unable to genuinely use “we” as part of your communication – you likely need to work towards collaborating with others (for reviews, questions, gut checks, etc.).
I’m very appreciative of those who have already received this feedback from me, and have humbled themselves in an effort to make the change. Each of us is ideally in a constant state of improvement. I’m always encouraged to see it happening real time.