There is a reason that kings, queens and various heads of state use “we” rather than “I” because it indicates the power to speak for others. You might run into an ordinary Joe who makes a habit of using the royal “we” such as, “That’s the way we’ve always done it around here.” That person wants you to believe they speak for the group and have control over others. They are more likely to be egotistical than a person who offers the more humble explanation, “But, that’s the way I’ve always done it.”
You may also recall teachers in school using the patronizing form of “we,” saying such things as “We don’t run in the halls.” This is another way to sound superior. Think about your reaction to the following directives in which the only change is the pronoun:
- “You raise your hand before your speak.” This is basically saying Do what I command and sounds like a person showing positional power.
- “We raise our hands before we speak.” This is like saying Child, you should know how to follow the rules. It sound like the speaker is patronizing you.
- “I raise my hand before I speak.” This sound like Look at what I am doing voiced by a person who uses “I” to bring attention to their own proper behavior.
That last example actually sounds as if the speaker does not have the authority to enforce the rule. People who use “I” more frequently are typically of lower status. Students use “I” more than teachers, subordinates use “I” with their bosses and women use “I” more than men. Also, depressed people use “I” more frequently.
If you hear the complaint “That person is always saying I, me or my–always talking about themselves,” you should gently remind the person that the use of those pronouns is not a matter of self-focus. A person frequently using “I” indicates a lone opinion, a single voice, and the lack of power to speak for others.
photo of painting “15-07-05-Schloß-Caputh-RalfR-N3S 1712” by Ralf Roletschek