Stop Saying 'Should'! How This One Word is Ruining Your Relationships and Business Negotiations

Ever feel defensive or pressured when someone tells you what you "should" do? This simple word can damage relationships and tank business deals. Understand why "should" is so harmful and how to improve your communication for more positive outcomes.

Abstract digital artwork depicting a complex maze of colorful lines and shapes.
Entangled Choices: Navigating the Labyrinth of 'Should'

As we drift further into the management role, we often notice a heightened sense of significance in the quality of our relationships. If we pay attention to the reactions of the individuals we are interacting with, we can use that information to determine how effective we are at landing the intended message. Sometimes, however, we notice that we tend to put folks into a defensive position. There are some reasons why we invoke those emotional responses, and one of those reasons lies at the foot of the words we decide to use when communicating.

This post will focus on the word SHOULD. I decided to talk about this because it has come up several times in my life recently and warrants some deeper perspective. First, in my relationship, my spouse came to me to discuss a conversation she had with her therapist, explaining how her use of the word SHOULD might be putting undue tension in our conversations. In the workplace, I noticed in areas where conflict resolution was struggling, the arguing parties were using the word SHOULD to describe a behavior they expected from the other, which seemed to prolong the negotiation process and eventual compromise.

What happens when we hear the word should.

Implies obligation or Expectation

"Should" often suggests that there is a correct way to do things, which can imply obligation or expectation. This can create pressure or a sense of failure if the action is not completed.

Moral Judgement

It can carry a moral weight, implying that one option is better and more morally correct than others. This can lead to guilt or shame.

Limits flexibility

Using "SHOULD" can limit thinking and prevent consideration of alternative approaches or solutions. It suggests there is one 'right' way, which may not always be the case.

Creates anxiety or stress

For some people, hearing or thinking "should" can induce anxiety or stress, especially if they feel they are not meeting these implied expectations.

Reduces personal agency

"Should" can make individuals feel like they are not making choices for themselves but rather fulfilling external requirements.

Hinders open communication

In conversations, saying "you should" can come across as authoritarian or authoritative, which might hinder open and collaborative communication.

Introspective exercises

  1. The next time the word SHOULD is directed at you, try to notice how you feel.
  2. Name the emotion. "I feel defensive," "I feel aggravated, annoyed, angry, self-righteous ... ". Try to find your description of how you feel instead of relying on what I have written here; this is a self-exploration, not a labeling exercise.
  3. How do you want to feel instead?
  4. How could the communication come to you differently to make you feel that way? (Happy, considered, etc...)

By following these steps, we can notice the effects of the word SHOULD, and if it makes you feel a certain way, it will likely make others feel the same way.

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