Think about the last conversation you had with your CEO or an Exec at that big new client you are trying to impress. Even better, if you have one, take a look at the last email exchange you have had with one of these big shots.
What are you looking for in these interactions?
How many times you use the personal pronoun 'I'.
As in 'I am writing to ask you about....' or 'I was referred to you by...' or 'Since you are a distinguished executive, I wanted to reach out to let you know I am a talented.....'
That kind of thing. It turns out that we don't use the word 'I' so much in these interactions because we are self-centered or conceited, we use 'I' because in these kinds of interactions with whom we perceive to be more powerful people, we get really self-conscious, and start playing the 'I' card way too much.
This conclusion is based on research from James Pennebaker, from UT-Austin and is reviewed in this piece from NPR - Our Use Of Little Words Can, Uh, Reveal Hidden Interests.
Here is an excerpt from the NPR piece that explains why we use 'I' so much in these situations:
But some of his most interesting work has to do with power dynamics. He says that by analyzing language you can easily tell who among two people has power in a relationship, and their relative social status.
"It's amazingly simple," Pennebaker says, "Listen to the relative use of the word "I."
What you find is completely different from what most people would think. The person with the higher status uses the word "I" less.
To demonstrate this, Pennebaker pointed to some of his own email, a batch written long before he began studying status.
First he shares an email written by one of his undergraduate students, a woman named Pam:
Dear Dr. Pennebaker:
I was part of your Introductory Psychology class last semester. I have enjoyed your lectures and I've learned so much. I received an email from you about doing some research with you. Would there be a time for me to come by and talk about this?
Now consider Pennebaker's response:
Dear Pam -
This would be great. This week isn't good because of a trip. How about next Tuesday between 9 and 10:30. It will be good to see you.
Pam, the lowly undergraduate, used "I" many times, while Pennebaker didn't use it at all.
Pretty simple, yet kind of profound too, I think. There, I just did it myself. Two times in fact.
How could 'Pam' have shifted the power dynamic just a little, while making the same request? How about something like this:
Dear Dr. Pennebaker:
My name is Pam, a student in your Introductory Psychology class last semester. The class was enjoyable and the lectures were extremely valuable. Regarding your recent email about doing some research with you, would there be a time for us to meet and talk about this?
Not too bad, right? Still respectful enough, but not as cloying/begging. Not constantly trying to 'prove' in the message that the Professor should take the request seriously.
Anyway, check out the piece on NPR for more on Pennebaker's work.
And stop saying 'I' so much.
Have a great week!