Why we is bad for all of us

We’ve gotten into the habit of not using we.

In meetings, emails, or over the phone, using we masks the truth and turns two day tasks into two week tasks. We is the verbal high fructose corn syrup of productivity. It might sound sweet, but it’s loaded with a whole load of other crap that’s just not good for you.

Why we almost never means we

Most people don’t care about most things. That’s why each one of us is a specialist in something. Some mainly program, some mainly design, some mainly plan the experience, and some mainly work with the client. When you say we, you’re really saying “some of us,” “just a few of us,” or often times even just I. Occasionally, it’s because there will be other people who might not agree. But more likely, most people simply don’t care or do not know. If it’s not in their realm of specialty, it’s not their decision to make.

Using we suddenly throws the blanket over everyone. It blurs who really matters from who really doesn’t. More importantly, it hides who you should really talk to if you do care about the subject. If I’m writing a tool to transfer data off of a legacy database and need to know the datatype of Column Y, I need to talk to the database administrator and no one else. A CEO, project manager, or janitor probably doesn’t know or care.

But that’s just the opposite of what the we mentality condones. We turns into fifteen people listening in on a phone call, twelve recipients copied on an email, or a roundtable of people writing notes about things they don’t understand or don’t matter to them. We just turns into a big cloud of talk when only a few people really understand the language being spoken. We makes things exponentially noisier than they need to be.

We feeds the noise virus

The problem isn’t just that it causes more noise, we is also the ammo that prolongs and multiplies noise. When you let we into the conversation, you’re inviting the talk to get even bigger and bigger over time. Why? We lets you ask questions that can’t be answered immediately. It opens up new, often uncritical, avenues of conversation that get away from the question you were trying to answer from the get-go.

  • What do we think about this?
  • Do we need to take this offline?
  • What can we do to make this better?

These questions are often asked at the end of a meeting as the setup for another meeting. Even if it’s just one or two people really making the decision, everyone will agree that “we need to think more about this.” And that’s the real problem. These questions seem perfectly fine to ask during a group meeting or on an email. Swap we for I, and asking these same questions in public might make some question your well being:

  • What do I think about this?
  • Do I need to take this offline?
  • What can I do to make this better?

These questions aren’t ones you ask in public. They’re ones you ask yourself, then answer in public. We lets you ask questions. I forces you to answer them.

We dilutes responsibility

Now that you know we rarely equates to all-of-us, and we draws out the conversation much longer than it needs to be, I offer you a third low blow: We dilutes responsibility.

It’s no different than the bystander effect: A person in an emergency situation is likely to get help faster from a lone bystander than from any single person within a large group of bystanders.

According to a basic principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. Since everyone is doing exactly the same thing (nothing), they all conclude from the inaction of others that help is not needed.
– The Bystander effect as explained from Wikipedia.

When more people are put into a situation, there’s less of a chance that anyone of them will do anything to resolve it. Instead, pinpoint one person to be responsible for the task. And, if two or more people are equally worthy candidates, don’t ask if one of them can do it, pick one of them to do it.

Now, you might be wondering if We Are Mammoth ought to consider a name change. We will have to take that offline and get back to you later.