Why Shouldn’t You Use Should?

The other day I received an email from someone, “You should have told me earlier….” The tone felt like a scolding. As it turns out the situation was not my fault for not letting her know earlier because I didn’t know earlier.

Often people say, “You should do this. You should do that. You shouldn’t do this or that.”

What’s wrong with this? When you use the word, should, it puts people on the defensive. More often than not, they will immediately they move into a defensive response. Why? Because the word, should often has an accusatory tone. When a person feels accused, their immediate reaction is to defend themselves.

Instead of saying the word, should, it’s better to say, “It works best if you do this or it would have helped the situation if you had done this or it’s more effective if you do it this way.”

In the case of the accusatory email, it would have made me feel less defensive if she had said, “I wish you had let me know earlier because…” This expression of her desire would have lowered my defenses rather than raise them.

There is a place for should as in a parent instructing a child or a teacher instructing a student, a boss training an employee and other such instructive situations. There are simply some things in life you should do and definitely a place for the word. When this is the case, express it in a non accusatory way.

When you do instruct someone and use the word should, it helps to give reasons. When you explain the thinking behind the admonition, you treat the person as an intelligent person who can think for himself. Sometimes instead of the word, should, you can say “It works better if you do it this way because…”then explain either the benefits or the consequences.

When you are expressing a need or want, you will encounter less resistance if you say something to the effect of “I wish you had done this or I wish you would do that.”

What are the benefits for you for being willing to go to this extra effort? You will have a tendency to get more cooperation and less resistance. Why? Because it’s a more honoring way to treat someone. When people feel respected, they are more responsive to your instructions and your requests.

That is why it’s a good idea to limit the use of  the word should and why you shouldn’t use should. I couldn’t resist saying that. All joking aside, the main idea is that you make the effort to be respectful and honoring to the other person.

“Show proper respect to everyone.” I Peter 2:17 (NIV)

Have you found yourself saying “should?” What has been your experience? Did you encounter resistance? What could you say instead?

What was helpful for you in this post? Do you have further questions? Let me know how I can support you in resolving your relationship challenges.

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