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The Unheard Word

One woman's slightly skewed views


The word “should” is one I took a dislike to years ago, ever since the man I married at 19 (when I was too young and naive to know better) would say to me, “You should not do this. You should not feel like that”. By definition, “should” is unrelated to reality, except to exemplify what reality is not.

Yet “should” is very much a part of our lives. Our lives are lived according to what someone, or one entity or another, tells us. Our relationships, and our work, and just day to day — well — life, are about rules and guidelines.

From an early age we are taught what we should and should not do. This could be for safety reasons or for sociological reasons, but either way it’s meant to be for our own good. Yet, either way it’s someone else’s (collectively or individually) idea of what’s right that has been imposed on us (collectively or individually) and we react to this in a few different ways:

Attitude We think or feel
Take it on board “I understand this is what I’m meant to do. I will try to make sure I do it.”
Acceptance and/or resignation “I’ll never be able to do that. I guess I’m just a failure. There’s not much point even trying. I’ll never measure up.”
Rebellion and/or resentment “Who are they to tell me what I should and should not do? I am capable of making my own decisions. How dare they?”
Rejection “They don’t like me, don’t accept me, think I fall short of what they want from me.”
Indifference “What’s your point? I’m fine with what I am and/or what my business is doing. Get over it. I’m cool!”

Sometimes we know in ourselves we “should” do something that is right, but don’t. Other times, we’re told (either by an individual, a business, or by the rules of our society) what we should or should not do, but don’t really know deep within ourselves whether or not someone else’s idea of what we should do is actually right for us. And yet other times, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the other person’s (or business’s or society’s) idea is wrong — at least for ourselves as individuals or as businesses.

Whichever feelings are invoked, or whichever reaction to “should” is chosen, there is a reaction, be it to the issue about which the word “should” is being used, or to the dynamics of the situation itself. We have no control over emotions (though we do over actions) and it’s important to be careful when dealing with other people to keep things positive. Where there is a reaction, there are consequences.

Actions and reactions determine self-esteem

We react to “should” according to our beliefs and the sum of our pasts, all of which are closely tied to our self esteem. Our reactions in themselves can determine how we subsequently perceive ourselves. If we suffer from low self esteem and react with anger or aggression or with hysterics (thus in some way demeaning ourselves) our self esteem will suffer an additional battering when we review our behaviour later (as ya do). Whereas, if we react carefully and with dignity, we’ll like ourselves a whole lot better for it later.

With clients

In our dealings with clients, I think it’s a Good Thingâ„¢ to avoid using the word “should”. Like it or not, people react to being told what they “should” do, and occasionally in such a negative way (even if they don’t actually say so) that your relationship with them is dented. When we know a client should do a thing, or a web site should adhere to certain guidelines, or if we prefer that procedures follow a different format, let’s find another way to put it. There are a gazillion ways we can do this. Some of my favourites:

  • “I may be wrong, but I’ve found that [xyz]… do you think it’s a good idea to consider…?”
  • “I understand what you are saying and you have a point. However, if we take that path we run the risk of…”
  • “In my experience, it has proved better to… because…”
  • “In isolation, that certainly does seem like a reasonable path. But when considered with the other site elements and overall goals…”

There are any number of non-threatening variations. And these also work as nice response when a client tells us what we should do, and we may be feeling prickly as a result.

And yes, I’m guilty of using the word “should” from time to time but it’s something I consciously avoid and I’m getting better. 🙂

I’ve focused on the word “should” here but in all of our dealings, if we take an assertive but non-confrontational appraoch, we can exert a great deal of control over the kind of feelings and reactions resulting from either personal or client dealings, and enhance our own self-esteem and that of the people we deal with at the same time.

3 Responses to “Should”

  1. Gavin Jacobi Says:

    It is always a healthy thing to pause and consider that the “should” comment might come from concern and not a need for control.

    Alas, not a very common reason in business dealings.

  2. Vicki Says:

    I agree the “should” comment might come from concern – it usually does. (Or so I’d like to think!)

    It’s just that people often react emotionally to the word so I reckon it’s good to be aware.


  3. Maxine Sherrin Says:

    I *totally* agree Vicki. I can’t bear this word, ever since I read a section in a book (on CBT and depression) called “The Tyranny of the Shoulds”. It really made me realise how much misery that word was capable of creating! Sometimes I worry that maybe I have swung the pendulum too far, as I often have a really strong negative reaction to it when friends use it on me. I know, I know, they do it out of concern and caring – but they *should* find another word! 🙂

    Nice post!