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What Leaders Can do When They Have "I Trouble"

When it’s hard to see things clearly of you can’t quite understand what’s happening in your relationships, it may be because you have I trouble.

Graphic Showing Wearing EyeglassesYou may have I trouble if you experience symptoms like these: you feel lonely or isolated even though you have loving people in your life, people get frustrated with you for not listening or not caring about the things that matter to them, you feel misunderstood, or you feel that you need to be defensive because others don’t seem to be considering your needs or opinions.

Of course, these symptoms could be related to other problems. But it’s worth considering that the diagnosis may be plain old I trouble, being self-centered in ways that limit your ability to connect with others.

I trouble takes many forms. Each distorts the world and people around you in different ways. Let’s get a close up examination of each type of I trouble.


This type of I trouble occurs when you can see clearly what’s right in front of you but have difficulty looking into the distance. In your relationships, it’s as if you have an “out of sight, out of mind” perspective. It seems like you live your life without considering how your actions will impact others. You make plans and choices without considering how others would want to be involved (or not). The time you have together may be enjoyable, to you and to them, but getting that time with you is not something they can count on because you are focused on here and now rather than on the long-term.


With this kind of I trouble, you’re okay looking into the distance. But the up close and personal gets a little fuzzy for you. Oftentimes, you miss the obvious signals and overlook what people are trying to tell you. You are present, but not fully present as you become absorbed in your own activities or thoughts. To others, it feels like you are taking them for granted, assuming they will always be there for you. Sometimes, people around you feel used because you notice them primarily when you want something from them.

Blurred Vision

Some people have I trouble that interferes with how they see others all the time. They misinterpret others’ intentions and presume that others have I trouble, too. As a result, they live by the principle “look out for number one.” They may be suspicious of others’ motives, untrusting, defensive or closed off in a self-protective state of mind. They can’t see clearly that others are responding to these walls because they don’t have access to respond to and interact with the person behind them.

In all three cases, I trouble can be corrected. But it requires getting your I’s checked. Only you can do this. Here are some signs you can self-diagnose to see if your I’s are failing you:

  • What percentage of your sentences start with the word “I” (written or spoken)? If you open the majority of conversations this way, it may mean that you are overly focused on your needs, your interests, or your point of view. If you find that most responses you offer in a two-way conversation start with “I” it may signify that you are defensive or feeling a need to assert yourself where you don’t need to be. Try to let more conversations be exclusively about the other person.
  • You repeat yourself frequently, sometimes in the same conversation. Stop and ask yourself this question: “Why is it that this point is not getting across?” Then, instead of repeating what you’ve already said, find a new way to resurface the topic or point. Don’t do it louder or more emotionally. In fact, go the opposite route and try a more neutral and matter-of-fact approach. If people are not responding to you, it may be that you’ve lost credibility in the heat of an I trouble moment. As you rephrase your important point, try to position it in a way that is highly relevant to the other person. Sometimes, when people aren’t hearing you, it’s because they don’t see themselves or their own needs in what you’re saying.
  • Conversations end in arguments and you are at a loss to understand what happened. Severe I trouble is apparent when there is a deficit of emotional intelligence or self-awareness. This happens when people can’t or won’t understand how their actions affect others. I trouble makes it difficult to empathize with others’ emotions or to anticipate others’ reactions.

Getting input from others is helpful. But when you hear their feedback, don’t let the same I trouble they’re commenting on prevent you from hearing or understanding what they are trying to convey. You may have grown so accustomed to your limited vision that you are not even aware when it’s compromised.

Uncorrected, I trouble will advance and the side effects will only get worse. The people in your life need you to see them clearly. They need you to fix your I’s and replace them with more We’s.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalDeb Calvert is a TLC Certified Master and expert on the evidence-based Five Exemplary Practices of Leaders. Book Deb today to speak at your leadership events, and Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog.