Why not to say “should”

Photo courtesy of Rosemary Bliss


Our word choice is very important.  Words, tone, and body language are pretty much all we have to use to communicate, and the words are the vessel in which your thoughts are conveyed.  I’ve learned to be wary of some words, in that when I say them it’s a warning to me.  Other times, there are words that I’d like to eliminate from my vocabulary entirely, as I find they serve only negative purposes.  I call them “weasel words.”

(I know “weasel word” actually has a slightly different meaning in certain contexts, but to me the phrase evokes trying to “weasel” out of something, so it feels right to me.  If anyone has a better name, please let me know.)

Here is today’s weasel word: 


Use this word in a sentence.  Here are some sample solutions:

  • We should get together sometime.
  • I should take care of that.
  • I should have told her how I felt.

What do all these statements have in common?  Okay, right, they are all statements I have made, but that’s not strictly my point.  They imply something that isn’t planned to happen, that isn’t happening, or that didn’t happen.  Why not?  Because there is no accountability.  It’s like throwing a stone into the air and not putting out your hand to catch it.  The stone will drop, with a thud.

When you find a “should”, make a note to put some follow-through on it, either by setting a time or an action:

  • Instead of “we should get together sometime,” say: “Let’s get together soon.  I’ll call you at the beginning of next month, and we’ll set a date.”
  • Instead of “I should take care of that,” say: “I will do that by next week, and I’m writing that down so I don’t forget.”  Or just do it now and save yourself some energy.
  • Instead of “I should have told her how I felt,” well, there may not be anything you can do about that now.  In which case, you better make sure you remember this for the next time.

This isn’t just relevant to your personal life.  In the work meeting, have you ever heard someone say, “yeah, we should definitely do that.”  What happens then?  Nothing, because no one is tasked to do it and there is no timeline for getting it done.  There is no accountability, so it’s not likely to happen.  You may wish to politely point this out and offer remedies.

I recommend listening for “should” in conversation.  It may come out of your mouth.  (It certainly still comes out of mine!)  When that does, pause, record what you said and what caused you to add in the word.  Did you not want to do something?  Did you want someone else to take care of something?  Find the root of the issue.  Then if the situation allows, rephrase the statement to omit the word.

If you hear someone else say the word, ask a clarifying question.  Who should do that?  When?  Why not now?

“Should” is the tool of the velleitier.  I know this one first-hand.  So you should* reject it wherever you find it.

* Joke.  🙂

But enough about me.  What other words do you watch out for?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on December 17, 2012