*Why you shouldn’t say “you”

Hi Joanna and Julie,

We had a question come up this morning in the study group I’m leading based on your book. In the chapter on Engaging Cooperation one of the tools is “describe how you feel.” Readers are advised to avoid the word, “you.” This seems to be in conflict with the commonly-accepted statement (purported to be an assertive, respectful way to state your feelings) of, “when you ___, I feel ____.”

Is there a way to reconcile this? Is it simply that there are two (and probably many more!) viewpoints on this matter? We’d appreciate any insight!

Thank you!


When you answer, I’ll feel happy!


We’ve got to agree with you, there are many viewpoints on this matter!  We’re going to suggest that you try it on yourself and see how it feels. Imagine that you’re in a group and the leader says the following to you in front of everybody:

“When you chat in the back of the room I find it hard to hear the questions from the group.”


“It’s hard to hear the questions from the group when there’s more than one person talking at the same time.” (This may lead to more discussion, such as, “I know there are a lot of things to discuss. Should we save some time at the end for general socializing and small group discussion?”)


“When you get here late we can’t start on time, and that makes everyone else feel frustrated.”


“It’s frustrating to start late, especially for the folks who have to get home on time for babysitters.” (This may lead to more discussion, such as, “Can we figure out a starting time that will work for everyone’s needs?”)


Are you feeling it? The YOU puts a person on the spot and makes him or her feel accused. Avoiding the YOU may seem indirect, but there is a very different feeling to it. It is a more neutral presentation that invites the listener to help solve the problem without making her feel called out or embarrassed and resentful (“Hey, why are you singling me out? Other people were talking too!” “I’m not the only one who’s late. Besides there was a lot of traffic. Why are you being so hung up about time?”)

We picked fairly mild conflicts for these examples. If you think about the emotional issues that come up with children it becomes even more important to describe the problem without accusing.

“When you do that to your brother he always gets hurt!” (Child thinks, “I’m rough and mean.” Or “But he did the same to me!”)


“Your brother got hurt. He doesn’t like having his arm squeezed!” (This might lead to more discussion, “What can we do to make him feel better?” Or perhaps the child will respond, “He squeezed my arm first!” In which case the parent can reply, “Oh, you didn’t like having YOUR arm squeezed either. We need an idea for what to do in a case like this so nobody’s arm gets hurt.”)

Please write back and let us know if this was helpful!


Joanna and Julie