The Guide On How to Approach People

Words are important. Words and how one expresses himself have a big meaning. For example, whether I use a word “I”, “you”, or “one” it gives a different feeling to what I’m saying.

For example, whether you use a word “I”, “you”, or “one” it gives a different feeling to what you are saying.

For example, whether one uses a word “I”, “you”, or “one” it gives a different feeling to what one is saying.

I’ve noticed that when sharing your experiences (through a blog for example), it’s quite safe to use the word “I”. I tell what happens to me. If I’ve done something, it’s my experience and I can tell about it. No preaching, no teaching. Just sharing my experience. No big deal.

Preaching and teaching
Whenever I use the word “you”, the tone of my blog might change to preaching/teaching. You have to be careful with words.

See, there it goes again – who am I to tell to you that you should be careful with words? I can only speak about myself.

And if I use the word “one”, I go into a bit more neutral zone. There one can wander quite safely. (As you can see). One has to be careful though, this form might sound little… odd. At least to my ear.

How do you approach people? Do you preach/teach and point out how the other needs to do something. Or do you express yourself differently – by using yourself as an example, leaving the other to decide whether he will accept your thinking?

Is it about “you” or “me”?
Think of the following examples, which one are you using when you are delegating a task to somebody else:

  • 1) “… and this final graph here shows the flow of the actions, and the end result needs to produce a gadget X. Do you understand the task?
  • 2) “… and this final graph here shows the flow of the actions, and the end result needs to produce a gadget X. Have I expressed the task understandably here?

The first one is probably okay, but there’s a slight challenge in the air: by asking whether the other guy understands the tasks, you might be automatically suggesting that “if the other guy is not understanding the task, it’s his fault”. This doesn’t necessarily leave room for the thought that there might be (A) something wrong with the task description, (B) or something wrong in how you’ve explained the task description. In some workplaces (I’d guess) this might be even offending. The guy could say that “yes, he understand the tasks” just for the sake of defending himself – he understands everything.

The second point removes the “do you understand” part, and this means that even if the other guy doesn’t get the task, his professionalism isn’t in any way questioned. You have removed the threat and there’s no need for defense. The other guy can then more willingly say that there’s some unclear point. He has no need to defense himself.

I’m exaggerating here a bit you know, I’m not saying that using words as in example #1 would automatically mean questioning the other. This might not be a big deal. People might not even notice this. In some workplaces… this might be an issue. Or maybe people would see you in a different light if you’d approach them differently. (I dunno. Maybe.)

This might not be a big deal
I’m not trying to say here that you’d need to be a wimp and be careful that the people will shatter to pieces from anything.

Just a thought on something that might be useful.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I know this one, but there is also the possibility of having people see right through it, and still be offended. It’s like they are always on the defensive. Worse yet is that when people are too sensitive about their ideas being critiqued, and take it personally. While it’s good to be considerate, it’s a problem if you always have to be extra careful with your words. It leads to dysfunctions of various sorts.

  2. I don’t know. I think it “depends”.

    I’m of the opinion that we use way too MUCH “soft” language in the office environment all for the purposes of preserving feelings and team unity rather than progressing an actual project and/or fixing real mistakes.

    Ideas and people NEED to be challenged to grow and learn from their mistakes.

    I certainly don’t mean every single idea needs to be challenged (otherwise you have zero progress), but sometimes people are given way too much liberty on ideas they may not really have any experience with which could derail or extend deliverable timelines.

  3. The queen says “one is pleased to meet you” :-)

    *I* believe this is a good perceptive post, thank *you* Juuso, and it’s something *I* like to think about a lot. *I* believe it is important to get this stuff right in an office environment or via team based emails, as well as on blogs of course (unless *the* (I could have said *your*) intention is to deliberately press people’s buttons).

  4. Some people say though, that you should avoid using “I” too much, as it starts to sound like “me, me, me and nobody else” :)

    You can avoid saying too much “I” by saying things in general, without “I”, “you” or “one”. For example: Today my trousers were washed, instead of “Today I washed my trousers”. You can also avoid “I” by using “we”, if you feel royal, or like a (0-n man) company.

    From what I’ve seen, the word “one” is used often by scientists, it sounds a bit unconventional, but also more professional than “you”.

  5. Funny thing that you write about this topic now… no, let me correct: It’s good to hear that someone shares these thoughs.
    I have just started blogging for my own game dev site (www.blackgolem.com, sorry for the blatant ad :) and used to spend more than one hour in average for each entry due to this ‘problem’.
    In my opinion giving people a good feeling is very helpful to build up and keep connections with friends, customers or followers. Therefore I prefer the indirect way of involving the crowd. The human instinct seems to always sound the alarm on direct speech before the cultivated thoughs come into play.

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