Misusing the word feel

What percentage of our use of “I feel” is actually followed by a feeling?

When we use phrases like “I feel that” or “I feel like,” we communicate thoughts and judgments instead of feelings. The appropriate use of “I feel” would be to say “I feel hurt” or “I feel frustrated.” Even saying “I feel misunderstood” communicates a judgment.

There is great power in communicating feelings and needs because they enable us to focus on the issue at hand while ensuring we move past passing judgments about others. But, channeling that power requires us to use language the way it was intended.

And, the first step to that is to pay attention to the language we use.. and misuse.

My biggest reflection from this idea is the importance of clarity in our bid to communicate constructively. When I wrote out my theme – “Communicate constructively and with clarity” – I thought of these as two separate goals. But, they’re likely more related than I initially thought.

(H/T: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg)

Violent communication

When I was recommended “Nonviolent Communication” after I asked for resources on productive communication in October, my first reaction was wondering if the book was for me. “Violent” sounded like a strong word.

Then, I heard this passage…

“If “violent” means acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, then much of how we communicate – judging others, bullying, having racial bias, blaming, finger pointing, discriminating, speaking without listening, criticizing others or ourselves, name-calling, reacting when angry, using political rhetoric, being defensive or judging who’s “good/bad” or what’s “right/wrong” with people – could indeed be called “violent communication.”

…and realized I’d found the exact resource I needed.

Putting the lessons learnt from this book into action is going to be one of my top 3 themes for next year – so, plenty more to follow on that journey in 2019. The immediate next step is for a second read of the book over the holidays. :-)

The clarity overestimation problem

As speakers, we overestimate how clearly we communicate. And, as listeners, we overestimate how much we understand.

Aside from long term investments in learning to communicate clearly and becoming better listeners (both valuable), it helps to have a short term counter to this asymmetry. And, the best I’ve found is habitually replaying what we think we just heard and requesting listeners to share what they think they took away.

We aren’t going to solve the overestimation habit (we all like to believe we are above average) – so, we might as well get on with solving the resulting issue.

Observation and Evaluation

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” | J Krishnamurthi.

Our natural instincts tend to have us overdo evaluation and under-do observation. They also push us to conflate both by attempting to do both at the same time.

There’s a time to observe and a time to evaluate. And, learning to keep observation and evaluation separate in our thinking and communication is a superpower because it enables us to have consistently productive and constructive conversations.

Next step for myself: Learn how to better separate the two. :-)

(H/T Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg)

Behind every effortless display of skill

Behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a fantastic communicator about his journey to effortless public speaking. He shared two nuggets.

First, he talked about the commitment he made when he decided to become a great communicator. He realized it mattered to him and wanted to get really good. So, he committed to doing 50 speaking events in the next twelve months. 10 speaking events would be a lot for most people. But, he started with a talk at the local library and went on to complete 50 in about 18 months.

Now that he had established a level of comfort and expertise, the next step was continuous improvement. Before every talk, he asks a friend/colleague to look out for 1-2 things he can do better. By making a specific request, he ensures there’s no cop out “you did great!” answer. He then follows up after the talk on the feedback and incorporates it for the next one. He’s been doing this for a decade.

It is worth repeating again then – behind every effortless display of skill lies thousands of hours of effortful deliberate practice.

Productive communication

We often think of productivity in terms of work we get done. But, our ability to communicate has a big impact on our own productivity as well as that of others around us.

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, we can get a lot more done if we can manage to communicate consistently in a way that manages to challenge people’s thinking without making them feel defensive.

PS: I’m not sure yet as to what the key to challenging without creating defensiveness is – since I’m not good at it myself. Would love your ideas. I’ll aim to share a synthesis after giving this more thought.


Tools like slack and email on the phone have made it easier for us to go back-and-forth with colleagues on questions. I’ve been paying attention to the many times I’ve been guilty of initiating these sorts of conversations.

These start with an unassuming “Hey, quick question -” and soon spiral into – “Oh, does that mean….?”

Every once a while, these back-and-forths exist because of the complexity of the problem. It is hard to ask that next question if you know little about the problem. But, more often than not, a little bit of upfront thought could help us lay out the 4-5 questions we actually do want to ask.

Giving that extra bit of thought upfront and batching our questions can make a big difference to the productivity of the person on the receiving end.

Here’s to doing that.