“We” May Not Be Representative of Me

Tuesday, Jan. 11th 2011 4:58 PM

I hear it all of the time – “We want to live in the suburbs” or “We are not ready for children yet.” People throw the word “we” around like confetti, but this always makes me wonder about the dynamic of the speaker’s relationship. What I hear is “I want to live in the suburbs” or “I am not ready for children yet,” and I wonder whether the mate (even when he/she is standing there nodding in agreement) actually does agree. Because when talking about how someone feels or thinks, “we” is one of the most dishonest, or at least uncertain, words in the English language.

The only person I can speak for with utter and complete confidence is me. And sometimes I am even hesitant to say with certainty what I want, particularly when it concerns the future, because what I want can (and often has) changed. So, naturally, I feel as though I am treading on thin ice when I talk about what someone else wants or thinks. My mate has the opportunity to reveal her own thoughts. Rarely does anyone need assistance to relay an opinion or a feeling. What would be my interest in robbing her of that opportunity? Yet, it does not appear that everyone shares my hesitancy.

It may seem petty for me to pick a fight with a seemingly harmless pronoun, but we put ourselves (and our mates) in precarious positions when attempting to speak someone else’s mind – or heart. Sure, the word “we” makes us sound (and even feel) connected to another person. And it’s great when you’re talking about tangible things – like what “we” did or accomplished. But in our zest to appear cohesive and together, individuals may also influence our partners’ decisions, which is manipulative, even when it is not intentional. Even if it something you have discussed and agreed on, when you tell other people, particularly people who are important to your mate, what “we” want, you make it harder for your mate to change his/her mind, or to speak his/her mind, if this isn’t really what your partner wanted in the first place.

For example, let’s say I want to have another child, but my mate is on the fence about it. She agrees to try for another baby anyway, and even keeps her true feelings to herself, because she knows it’s important to me. Or perhaps, when she agreed, she did want another baby, but she could later decide that she’s not ready to go through the pregnancy, sleepless nights and diapers all over again. Either way, my desire may not be her desire. But if I tell our family and friends that “we” want another baby, I’m setting her up to lose face in front of all those people if she changes her mind. This is not my intention, because I truly think it’s what she wants. But because I can never be certain what is in her (or anyone else’s) heart and mind at any given point, it is still manipulative.

At best, no two people agree about everything; that is perfectly normal and absolutely OK. And there will certainly be times when you and your mate are on the same page. But neither you nor the listening parties can be certain when that is the case. If you speak for yourself, and yourself alone, you will be much more honest with everyone in the long run.

I am not suggesting that you act suspicious of people who talk about what “we” want. After all, most people mean no harm by it. It’s status quo. But status quo isn’t always best. So, when you (the one person you can control) feels tempted to “we” your partner, question your motives, and consider the much more powerful and honest alternative – “I.”

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

14 Comments on ““We” May Not Be Representative of Me”

  1. sherry Says:

    i totally agree, i have done this without even thinking that yes my mate might not feel this way, it is munipulating, cause then you make the other person feel like a lier or they can say how they really feel cause they dont want to let you down or be told from someone , you just cant make up ur mind, just because the other mate has stated how they both feel without asking or knowing that they dont feel this way, thanks, this is something i dont want to do anymore, great job explain why our words are important how we word our statements,,,,,kudos to you!!

  2. Massander Says:

    Good food for thought. I can certainly be mindful of how confidently I speak for “we” in the future. There are many examples, though, where “losing face” is hardly the outcome of a change in perspective. My wife and I can (and do say) things like, “yeah, I wanted/believed/felt X at the time, but now I’m thinking/feeling/wanting Y.” It’s understood that things can and do change. It’s also understood that we both try to represent our understanding of where each other stands in good faith. I don’t think it’s a big deal most times.

  3. Shea Says:

    I understand the general point, but in the specific situation given there are two other issues that are really driving the problem: lack/inability to communicate on the female example’s part and lack/inability to detect his partner’s uncertainty.
    If one partner is not sure what they want at the time of the discussion, they should take the responsibility to communicate that to their partner. Even it its to say “I’m undecided”. I wouldn’t blame this on a presumption on one partner’s part as much as a lack of communication on the other’s.

    At the same time, we also need to pay attention to our partner’s reactions and level of comfort. Over time, we gain a better idea of when they’re happy and when their heart isn’t in something. We should try to pick up on these cues and continue to investigate our partner’s feelings honestly…for the truth and not just what we want to hear.

    In the end, if the relationship is generally strong and healthy, I find little harm in “we”. It is a bonding statement. Being strong enough to know that I can and will always speak for myself, I’ve never been intimidated or coerced into a “we” statement and have often enjoyed hearing it when spoken on my behalf. As a female, it can be nice to hear a mate want to identify with the relationship rather than just as himself.

  4. Ram Swaroop Sharma Says:

    Dear Frank, use of ” WE” instead of “I” or “Me” is to accompany God with your existence or even your deeds. In India the term WE is commonly used.
    We= God +me

  5. Edward M. Bryan Says:

    Hi Frank
    Thought your insight very useful and worth remembering. I don’t question the ‘we’ enough but will do in the future. Very worth while little gem – thank you for sharing.

  6. Ian Critchley Says:

    Yes, and sometimes “We” is only representative of Me!

  7. Kenneth G. Says:

    For me it depends on who is saying it.

  8. Misti Says:

    Why does it depend on who’s saying it?

  9. Misti Says:

    I assume “we” only works when the other person is in alignment with what’s true for you?

  10. Kevin C. Says:

    I think it is at least presumptuous and bordering on arrogant to speak for someone elses feelings

  11. Kenneth G. Says:

    The reason why I say to me it depends on who is saying it is because whether the speaker is labeled as dishonest or honest for using the word “we” depends partially on her/his audience. Especially since they are the ones giving him/her that title. And the best speakers in the world Gandhi, Mother Teresa, JFK etc. found ways to connect to their audience in a way that using “we” strengthened instead of divided those listening. Just my thought. Thanks Misti

  12. Diederik W. Says:

    no one could possibly be in ‘debt’ to me even with understanding and agreement of ‘terms’. at the very root of the agreement is manipulation. no one can but fail your idea of him and there is no betrayal but of that.

  13. Amber Fogarty, MBA Says:

    Frank – this was fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

    I will definitely repeat this statement to myself and share it with others: “The only person I can speak for with utter and complete confidence is me.”

  14. The Manipulative Nature of Public Proposals | Frank Love Says:

    […] a previous blog, “‘We’ May Not Be Representative of Me,” I wrote about how using the word “we” to describe what you think or feel is […]

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