Withhold “I” say “you”

Here’s a technique guaranteed to enhance your listening skills. Withhold “I” – say “you.”  Let me explain.


Typically, while someone is speaking, we’re not listening. We’re formulating. We’re thinking of what to say when they finally stop talking. When they finally stop, the first word out of our mouth is “I.”  We say things like, “I think this” … or, “I’d do that” … or, “I want you to.


Unless we open our mouths to say, “I’d love to hear more,” saying “I” may steal the focus of a conversation from the speaker and shift it to the listener.  Withholding “I,” at least for a few sentences, forces leaders to stay focused on others and their message.


When I lead listening exercises, I’ll have participants pair up for a “withholding I exercise.” The listener isn’t allowed to say “I” for 2.5 minutes. During the exercise they can’t even say, “I hear you saying.”

Universally, they say that withholding “I” is agonizing.  Some say they can’t think of anything to say if they withhold “I.” Their mind goes blank. An inability to think of something other than “I” may indicate the depth of the listening problem.


If said improperly, saying “you” may sound like an accusation. For example, “You did what!” Or, “You’re wrong.” Avoid accusation. Saying “you” is simply a technique that trains your mind to focus on other people and their message.


The goal of this behavior is more than simply withholding “I.” The goal is making others feel listened to and valued.


The next time someone begins talking to you, don’t let yourself say “I” for at least one minute. Good luck.


What listening techniques do you use that make other’s feel listened to and valued?