“I” vs. “We” and President Obama

obama3The pronouns we use when we speak can be a powerful window into the way we think, the way we lead, and the way we think about others.

When we hear a leader speak with “I” as the dominant pronoun it creates a certain experience. And when we hear a leader speak with “we” as the dominant pronoun it creates a very different experience. When we hear “I” the audience thinks about exclusiveness, and hears a leader who may be more focused on themselves. When we hear “we” the audience thinks about inclusiveness, and hears a leader who may be focused on the group and and bringing people together.

The pronouns we choose to use when we speak have a powerful impact on our audience, above and beyond the message and the concepts we are discussing.

Back in 2008, I wrote about the speaking style of Barack Obama, and compared it to that of Hilary Clinton. They were running against each other for the democratic party’s presidential nomination. And at the time, the speaking style of candidate Obama was highly inclusive. He almost never spoke in the first person singular “I.” His speeches were intoxicating in that way. And to demonstrate the point, here is the video of his victory speech in the 2008 Iowa Caucus. You don’t have to watch the entire video. But watch for a few minutes and notice how rarely he says “I.” Almost never…

Now, I contrast that style from 2008 to something I heard from President Obama in July 2014. He was speaking on the economy in Austin, TX. And the style is dramatically different. Here’s the video. His style is dominated by “I.” The experience for the listener, (or at least this listener), is completely different.

Let’s please leave politics out of this discussion. And in terms of full disclosure, I voted for Obama in 2008, and am a registered Republican. I’m ignoring any impact of the current state of divisive politics in Washington, for which both parties own some blame. Rather I am talking about a speaking style, a choice (conscious or unconscious) made by the speaker and speechwriter.

The magic of the inclusive speaking style demonstrated by candidate Obama in 2008 was that we all felt like we were part of something greater. The problem with the exclusive speaking style demonstrated in the second video is that it is hard to get excited listening to someone talk about themselves.

Now, let’s forget the Obama examples. Let’s talk about you. What is your speaking style? Is your style focused on yourself or on everyone in the room? Do you make people feel like they are part of something? Or do you make them feel like you are mostly focused on yourself?

Think about it. And at some point I challenge you to record yourself and listen to the way you speak. And if you really want to test this idea, count the number of times you say “I” vs the number of times you say “we.” It could provide a valuable window into the way you think, the way you speak and the way you may be perceived by others.

Have a great day.

At The Latimer Group, our individual Coaching services are highly customized and designed to help you achieve your specific goals. Typical engagements focus on developing skill sets in Leadership Communications, Public Speaking, and Executive-Level Business Presentations. To learn more, e-mail us at info@TheLatimerGroup.com

Photo by donkeyhotey used under the following license.


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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.