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Don’t Tell Your Team ‘You Should.’ Instead, Use ‘You Could.’ Here’s Why

Reduce your use of two words to improve your positive communication


No one likes being ordered around, and what many people may not realize is the impact this kind of communication may unintentionally have on our friends, colleagues, and family around. Like you, they’re probably not fans of it either.

In my company, we can and do use negative language, but not on purpose. Most of the time we’re unaware of how negative it is. After attending a great workshop with Lisa Bodell (author of Kill The Company), and team from futurethink, we learned ways to speak more positively.

They pointed out we often tell people what they “should” do instead of suggesting what they “could” do. Or we tell each other we like each other’s ideas and solutions, “but”…

Bottom line, most of us don’t like to be told what we “should” do and we don’t like to hear the word “but.” Both imply something wrong. The impact of our language ends up turning off the very people we mean to help. If you want to have a more positive impact on your workmates, here are two ways you can reframe your suggestions and advice.

Try “could” instead of “should.”

The words “should” and “could” seem to have the same meaning but have a different impact. Using “should” implies “obligation, duty, or correctness” on the part of the listener. It doesn’t leave much space for alternatives or discussion. Sometimes “should” comes across as an order even when it’s meant as a suggestion.

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