Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Want to Be an Effective Leader? Stop Saying "I Feel Like..."

people talking
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Clear communication is all we want in the workplace. It’s what leads to successful emails, effective feedback, and productive meetings—all of which are pretty great things.

But clear communication can’t happen until everyone removes this three-word phrase that’s getting in the way: “I feel like.”

Because according to Molly Worthen, author of a New York Times article on this topic, “the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.” Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University who’s quoted in the article, adds that the phrase is “a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group.”

Here’s the problem, as explained by Worthen: Saying “I feel like” makes it practically impossible to have a productive conversation with others.

Let’s say your boss calls a meeting to discuss your team’s performance with the intention of addressing areas that need improvement. Everyone’s welcome to share what didn’t work and brainstorm possible reasons why. If everyone feels like it didn’t work for one reason or another, where will the responsibility for fixing those problems actually go?

Take these two sentences into consideration:

“I feel like we should cancel our Wednesday meetings so we have more time to focus on our individual projects.”

“We should cancel our Wednesday meetings so we have more time to focus on our individual projects.”

The first one might result in people nodding their head because they also might feel that way. The second, on the other hand, makes a statement that others have to either agree with or disagree with—which’ll lead to a faster decision. (Not to mention, it also sounds more confident, which is key for getting ahead at work).

So, how you can get rid of this credibility killer? Simply replace it with “I know” or remove it altogether.

And look, it’s okay if you’re afraid of communicating more directly—that often comes with speaking up. But it’s also what you were hired to do: Confidently share your ideas. Even if people disagree, you’ll get to the final decision faster.

But I feel like that’s easier said than done (see what I did there?)—so make it a goal to start slowly. Trust me: It’ll make your life easier. Plus, just as Molly Worthen says in her article, “We should not ‘feel like.’ We should argue rationally, feel deeply, and take full responsibility for our interaction with the world.”