This simple rule changes your attitude and your life: never start a sentence with “I” unless talking about yourself. Use “I” sparingly, only for the few times you mean to talk about yourself.
“I” statements drain your power by:
- Making you look childlike and immature
Think about how we grow from baby to adult: the baby understands only what it knows, needs, feels. As we grow, we gradually move to see that we’re not the center of the universe. The sign of adulthood is the ability to look at life without constantly talking about ourselves: to talk about an issue or an idea in its own right, not only how it links to us. I have an old friend who always brings every conversation back to herself or her family – people don’t think she’s very smart (although she really is both smart and able). So it’s not enough to be smart – talk smart too.
- Blaming yourself for problems
“I didn’t have time for…” makes you look slow or disorganized while “The schedule didn’t allow…” reveals the real issue.
- Suggesting uncertainty
“I think it’s noon” versus “It’s noon.” Worse: “I’m not really sure about and this is probably stupid but I think it’s noon.”
- Making disagreements personal
“I’m right about this” starts an argument, not a conversation
- Encouraging “touchy feely” language
“I feel good about this party” versus “This party will be lots of fun”
An Easy Cure for the “I” Plague
The “I” word can be difficult to avoid, but there’s an easy solution. Ask yourself these questions before you talk:
- What are you NOT talking about? Yourself, silly.
- What are you talking about? Now you have the subject of your sentence.
- What does it do? Try to pick an action verb – see the transformation below.
- Finish the sentence. So instead of saying “I love that dress,” try “That dress looks great on you!” You see what this simple change did? It made your sentence more interesting (especially to the wearer of the dress) and it made the sentence precise.
In class, in writing and at work, sentences that begin with their actual subjects make you look smart, cut the word count, and discourage interruptions. And remember: it’s not about you!