One of the biggest revelations I’ve learned about relationships (professional and personal), I picked up years ago from McKinsey.
It was such a simple yet transformative concept.
Here’s the story.
At McKinsey, when I worked with a new client, I would conduct a round of initial introductory meetings with each member of the executive team.
This was an opportunity to meet them, introduce our role of the project the CEO requested, and a chance to get to know them.
During these meetings, I would often start by asking questions like:
- What do YOU think the company should do to grow?
- What do YOU see as the biggest obstacles to achieve the goal?
Typically, I’d go away for a few weeks to do some analysis and come back to report findings. It was customary to ask clients to update their original opinion on questions I asked them earlier in the process.
By this time, I had developed a relationship with all of them and knew them much better. During this time (usually three weeks into an engagement), I would intentionally ask my question slightly differently.
I’d re-ask the questions phrased as follows:
- What do you think WE should do to grow?
- What do you see as the biggest obstacles WE face to achieve the goal?
Did you notice the subtle shift in phrasing?
I shifted the pronoun usage and emphasis to the pronoun “WE.”
Pause for a moment.
Why would I bother to do that?
What is the point?
The psychology behind that one statement is SO powerful and it made a huge difference in my client relationships.
When I use the pronoun “you,” it implies that “you” and “me” are separate.
You have your headaches. I have my headaches... and these headaches are separate.
However, when I say “we,” “we” includes “you” and “me.”
It implies “we” are in this together.
You don’t have headaches. I don’t have headaches.
WE together have headaches that only WE can solve.
This small shift was a total game changer for my professional career.
I used the same approach in industry when working cross-functionally with other departments that didn’t report to me.
It also works incredibly well when raising children.
It works well with a life partner.
“I didn’t like what ‘you’ did and ‘you’ need to fix it.”
“I didn’t like what happened, and can ‘we’ work together to find a solution that works for both of ‘us’?”
That simple shift from a “you" versus “me" paradigm to a “we”-focused paradigm is a total career and life game changer.
Our words reflect our thinking. Change the words and you change the thinking.