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Should vs. Could
By Colle Davis

Should vs Could

When someone makes a ‘should’ statement, the energy in the listener switches to expecting punishment instead of help. Put it this way: Stop Shoulding on People, and that small act frees both of you to enjoy life and create progress.

Removing the word should from your vocabulary is a challenge. My clients find it difficult and frustrating to change this habit, especially when they are used to throwing it like a spear at everyone —even themselves.

Should is based on a belief and past-focused. “You should hold your morning meeting at 8am.”

Suggesting a more productive behavior for the future allows the listener to correct their behavior the next time the situation arises. “8am meetings are a great way to kick off the day and get everyone in the same room.”

This new habit is much easier on both parties and opens the doors for creative solutions.
Imagine for a moment the difference between these two sentences:

  • "You should have that task done by 10:00."
    "Please complete the task by 10:00."
  • Which feels better to you? How much time is lost in translating a sentence structured like #1 into a request like #2?
  • What is the most common ‘should’ you hear in your head? (I’ll wait while you answer the question.)

Ready? That is the one slowing you down, distorting your life, and maybe the hardest to shut off.

Have you ever heard the word ‘should’ come out of your parent’s voices or the word coming out of your mouth? This behavior happens because the word ‘should’ is familiar and has an authoritarian power in it, and the situation was perfect for you to be a parent and tell someone what your parents would have said.

Changing the word ‘should’ to ‘could’ empowers you and others.

Notice the similarity in should, could, and would. These words are cousins used for being pushy and producing unreliable results. Resorting to any of them means you are not looking for a solution; you are looking for a way to have someone else complete a task the way you want it done. Doing this crushes creativity and spirit.

The word could be empowering if it allows the person being nudged to take up the challenge and perform the task as directed OR deliver performance above expectations. The opportunity presents a win for both parties and an excellent record to build from. Giving others a chance to shine and receive praise makes you look good.

What do you want for an outcome when you are talking to someone? Is the project, task, or report due at a specific time? Tell them your expectations for completing it, and let them do the work. Micromanaging runs on shoulds.

Engaging and encouraging your reports, kids, volunteers, or anyone needing direction clarifies what you want, your expectations, and when it needs completing. You are giving them your request and allowing them to fulfill it to the best of their ability.

This week, see how often substituting ‘could’ instead of the other word (should) is possible. If the substitution is impossible, the request/command may be out of line, and a different approach is needed.
Work with me as your Coach. You will achieve different results by doing anything different than you currently do. Guaranteed. See the rest of our website or follow us on LinkedIn for more tips and tricks.

Contact me if you want more suggestions on how to reap bigger rewards. Or, if you really want to increase the size of your rewards quickly, hire me as your coach.


For help, contact us for more tips and suggestions on becoming an expert contact me. Colle Davis cdavis@mycoach.com or 804-467-1536 (EST) or set up a complimentary meeting via Zoom.