The Power of Pronouns

how to improve listening skills

Working, learning and living with others is dependent on us having clarity of what want and the confidence to ask for it. And yet no matter how much you might practice what you are going to say or think before you speak somehow you can still be misunderstood.

When I am working with clients I notice language patterns and ask questions of specific words to help them gain clarity and insight. Sometimes they are not actually saying what they mean.

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Have you ever had your words repeated back and when you heard them back you have thought ‘that doesn’t sound right or that isn’t exactly what I mean’?

Sometimes all that is needed to improve communications is to gain clarity of what you mean by what you say. One of the most common misused and misunderstood words are pronouns.

Power of Pronouns

I had no idea that I was saying we, when I meant I or I was saying I when I meant we. No wonder my message often got lost in translation. This article is an invitation to be curious about which pronouns you use most and to consider how accurately that reflects what you mean?

Learning to gain clarity of the pronoun can improve understanding and communication.

Firstly be curious about whether you are using the pronoun that communicates with clarity your intention?

This video is an extreme version of what happens and it is a good example of what is happening each and every day in our communications.




Learning to question my pronouns was one of those light bulb moments when suddenly it all made so much more sense.

I remember it clearly it’s April 2012 –  Ros and I have travelled to Colorado and were staying with our host Christine who invited us to play a board game called conversations.




There were only a few simple rules – you picked a card and this gave you a subject to talk about and there were not many rules but the one I remember is that you could not use any pronoun apart from ‘I’.

As the evening progressed, with wine if I recall, I was pulled up by Christine who knew the game well on a number of occasions for saying ‘we’ do ‘xyz’ or ‘you’ know what I mean. Having to rephrase it to ‘I do ‘xyz’ and ‘I know what I mean’ really made me clarify what I was thinking and saying. Up to that day I had no idea.

That evening transformed my awareness of how often in every day conversation we/I use a pronoun that transfers the responsibility to the other person or in the very least shares it when in fact the opinion/statement is in fact all mine.

What pronouns you are using and notice if that is an accurate reflection of what you mean?

I have seen and heard managers say ‘we need to do xyz?’ when they mean ‘You need to do’ xyz’ and then they wondered why no one was doing what they said. When asking the staff they had interpreted ‘we’ to mean they would do it together and were waiting for the manage to say when to start.

Once you have defined which is the correct pronoun notice what happens to confidence?

What I noticed personally and many of clients discovered too, is that it was more difficult to be so direct. We lacked the confidence to say ‘I would like ‘you’ to do ‘xyz”.

We have to …seemed softer and gentler and yet it doesn’t get the response required.

And I have worked with managers and parents who were very clear that it was the other person and they rarely used the we which also resulted in a breakdown in communication.

Which pronoun is your default?

When asked questions be curious – when communicating are you predominantly talking about what you want so perhaps using the ‘I’ pronoun more than others?

Do you refer to us and we more than I?

If you are communicating and getting the response you want then no need to change, however if you are communicating and not getting the response you want then this is definitely something to explore.


With this in mind the invitation is to check in with yourself and notice which pronouns you are using and how that is impacting your being ability to be heard, understood and valued.

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If you are struggling to be heard and understood and it is preventing you from doing your best work and living your best life then please do book a 30 minute call today with no obligation and I will be happy set you up for success.

I might be part of the solution you need and I might not, but you will you know your next best step.

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About the Author – Sheryl Andrews – The Strength and Solution Detective

Sheryl Andrews, Founder of Step by Step Listening, is well known for her fast speaking and her passion to make things happen. But what many of you may not know is that in private behind closed doors she was also no stranger to lapses in self belief and an overwhelming sense of not being good enough.

That was until she learned the importance of being heard and asking for support. In her book she describes the step by step journey she took to learn how to manage her critic turning her overwhelm into clarity in 7 steps.

Sheryl now runs retreats that encourage you to really listen to what you need to work, learn and live at your best with others and the confidence to ask for those needs to be met.

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Sheryl Andrews, Founder of Step by Step Listening is well known for her fast speaking and highly motivational passion. But what many of you may not know is that in private behind closed doors she was also no stranger to lapses in self belief and an overwhelming sense of not being good enough. Sheryl use to find it difficult when criticised even when she knew they meant well and found it difficult to respond rather than react. A series of 3 events in her personal life exaggerated her emotional overwhelm and forced her to address this problem and conquer her sensitivity to criticism. Today she shares every day stories of every day people and inspires you to discover ways to gain clarity and confidence to change the way feedback and criticism impacts your performance.

View all posts by Sheryl Andrews →

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