Do you Prefer “I feel” or “I think” when you Speak? And Why it Matters.

Speaking with a younger client hoping for promotion this week, she was telling me about meeting a partner in her firm to discuss her concerns about a team process.

And I noticed in her retelling of the conversation with him that she was continually using “I feel” and “I felt” to describe what she was observing. 

Even though there were feelings involved on her part, using this language can be a concern for a few reasons: 

  •  For us. Saying “I feel” – it’s personal. It’s closer to us. We are actually priming ourselves to attach more strongly to the idea we’re expressing.
    This makes it harder to distance ourselves from what we’re saying, and to be ok about having it challenged.
    I’ve had clients put their hand on their heart when they say “I feel” about something – it can feel very close to them.
  • For them. On the flipside, not only does it impact how we process what we’re saying – often more important is how it’s received.“I feel” is softer than “I think”, and it’s potentially also ‘messier’ and more volatile. This can dampen the receiver’s ability or desire to respond.

Of course, being softer may be exactly what you intended. For example, you’re floating an idea, or you’re in a junior position and don’t want to be challenging or are concerned about what you’re expressing.

The problem occurs because the receiver hears “I feel” even subconsciously, and depending on topic, this may diminish your opinion and credibility unintentionally on your part. In fact, you’re often trying to do the opposite: to show leadership and insight.

  • Inaccuracy. We’re often literally being inaccurate. We can only feel an emotion, not a thought. “I feel we need to have less meetings, and to clarify the outcome of each one before it happens” – no! You don’t feel that, you think it.

On discussing this with my client, not only did she become instantly very aware of how often she used “I feel”; she also thought about the people in her firm whom she admired as communicators, and realised that the language they used to be effective was often ‘cool’ and neutral-sounding. Not feelings-full!

With that in mind, some action steps for you:

Action steps

  1. Notice. Become aware of which words you’re using in which context. Record yourself if you need to. 
  2. Armed with this knowledge, you can start to practise choosing – at least some of the time – what comes out of your mouth. Of course this is particularly good if you get the opportunity to prepare for a conversation meeting or presentation beforehand.
  3. A useful substitute is “I notice(d) or “I observe(d)”. Can you feel the difference? When you swap “I feel” for these words instead, you’ll sound cool, calm and strategic if you need to be.


Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *