Here’s a story about one of the funniest corporate moments I’ve ever witnessed.
The CEO of a small technology company I worked for often held all-day meetings with his vice presidents. And he always invited lucky me, the copywriter, to capture any great line uttered in the meeting so we could use it in our marketing materials.
One day, hours into a marathon meeting, one of the VPs, who had passed on all of the unhealthy snacks on the table and hadn’t left the room all day, stood up and headed for the door.
CEO: Where are you going?
VP: I’m starving. I’m going to grab a snack and bring it back.
CEO: How can you be hungry? I just ate.
“How can you be hungry? I just ate.” That was by far the greatest line I ever heard in any of these meetings. Unfortunately it wouldn’t have made much sense in our marketing materials.
So, what’s the point of this story? Not many of us are as self-centered as that CEO. But in our writing and speaking, we are often too “me-focused.”
But your listeners and readers think about things from their own points of view. In other words, they’re “me-focused” too. So if you’re trying to make yourself heard, a more effective method than trying to refocus your listeners on you is to join their internal dialogue about themselves.
Great communication skills come from the ability to connect with people, and that connection is based largely on the use of a single word: You.
Me focus: I’ve posted the updated version of the document to the intranet. I think it has all the relevant information, but if necessary I can add anything I missed.
You focus: You can find my updated version of the document on the intranet. If you find any details are missing or inaccurate, you can let me know and I will make the changes you request.
Seems like a small change, doesn’t it? Maybe not even worth mentioning. But if you apply this subtle change to your writing—from a focus on yourself to a focus on your reader—you’ll find that your audience understands and responds to your words much more positively.
This isn’t new advice. People have probably suggested you-focused communication since the days of the cave man, to avoid conversations like this:
Cave Man 1: So there I was, running for my life from this woolly mammoth—
Cave Man 2: Hey, I just drew a woolly mammoth on our cave wall last night.
Cave Man 1: Please don’t interrupt me.
But most people communicate with a me-focused approach, and they often fail to get their message across to their listeners and readers. This creates an opportunity for you to shine. Be you-focused in your speaking and writing. People will notice, they’ll appreciate it, and they’ll see you as a great communicator.
Remember, to a self-focused reader or listener—which includes most of us—“you,” “your” and “you’ll” are the most enjoyable words in the English language aside from our own names.
This is me, I, Robbie Hyman, signing off.