We may assume that people who are egotistical talk about themselves the vast majority of the time. But if you really want to find out how people view their own status, you need to pay attention to pronouns that they use.
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. Maybe you have run into an ordinary Joe who makes a habit of using the royal “we” such as in “That is the way we’ve always done it around here.” This person wants you to believe that they speak for their group. They are far more likely to be controlling than the person who offers the more humble explanation, “That is the way I’ve always done it.”
You may recall how your teachers spoke in school using the patronizing form of “we.” They would say such things as “We don’t run in the halls,” which was simply a way for teachers 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 looking down on you.
- “I raise my hand before I speak.” This sound like Look at what I am doing voiced by a weak person who uses “I” to bring attention to their own proper behavior. It actually comes off as if the speaker does not have the authority to enforce the rule.
The people who use “I” more frequently are typically of lower status. Students use “I” more than teachers, subordinates use “I” with their bosses and woman use “I” more than men. Also depressed people use “I” more frequently. It is not a matter of self-focus or egotism. The frequently use of “I” indicates a lone opinion, a single voice, and a lack of power to speak for others.
photo of painting “15-07-05-Schloß-Caputh-RalfR-N3S 1712” by Ralf Roletschek