One of the most common missteps in customer conversation is talking about ourselves too much. There is an overload of “I, me, my” out there—which can block us from truly connecting with customers, prospects, and colleagues.
Nevertheless, there are at least three “I” statements which can build your professional credibility rather than undermine it. But first, let’s recognize that telling others what we think and feel is not a character flaw. It is instead the response to a powerful biological lure that is embedded deep within our brains. As I recently shared with subscribers to my free Message Manager Memo™, Harvard University neuroscientists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell found that talking about ourselves triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as money, food or sex. Yes, people find immediate reward at the level of brain cells and synapses.
So, we won’t purge ourselves or our teams from any references to themselves. That wouldn’t be natural! There can be times when an effective Message Manager does need to say “I” and can do so very effectively:
- “I know.” There are times when you can (and should) assert a fact or concept. Try saying “I know” rather than the slightly weaker “I believe” or “I think”; you will project more confidence. This doesn’t make you a know-it- all, but instead underscores your specific expertise. Just make sure you are indeed correct, because these days anyone can fact-check you in seconds with the swipe of a finger.
- “I feel.” This one can certainly be overdone; some people focus on their feelings to a degree that chases others away from the conversation! But an appropriate discussion of what you are sensing (e.g. “I’m feeling more optimistic about this deadline,” or “I sense some extra frustration out of the Western region team”) can serve to advance understanding and discovery. Others might argue your facts or conclusions, but no one can argue your feelings.
- “I recommend.” A recommendation—based upon your experience as well as your understanding of someone else’s situation—is stronger than a “suggestion.” Great mentors have taught me to offer potential buyers up to (but no more than) three options. Even better is a set of options plus your informed recommendation. I pay attention to recommendations from people who know their stuff and also understand the specifics of my situation. I didn’t pay attention to, for example, the waiter who immediately announced to our table “I recommend our fish special tonight.” That waiter had no basis for his recommendation—I figured the restaurant had a glut of fish that would spoil soon!
If you want to build professional credibility, then the “I”s can sometimes have it—when followed by your knowledge, feelings, or recommendation.