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The word “should” and the damage it can cause


The word “should” and the damage it can cause


If you’re one of my clients, you’ve probably heard me say that “should” can be a dangerous word. Until you see its potential power, the term seems harmless.


Imagine this…you are late for work and are frantically going up the stairs of your office building with a blazing hot cup of coffee in your hand. You look up and see Bill, a coworker, going down the stairs similarly, with immediacy. Before you realize it, you collide with Bill, sending the scalding hot cup of coffee flying in the air. We all know what happens next. The hot cup of coffee gets spilled all over your clothes. As most of us do, you react to the pain, but you also stand there confused about what just happened. Lastly, Bill says, “Watch out next time.”


~ Why did he bump into me, knowing that I had a cup of coffee in my hand?

~ Why didn’t he move to avoid the collision?

~ How is this my fault?

~ How rude! No apology or offer to help!


All of these thoughts running through our heads are a result of the word “should.”


Let’s take the first thought “Why did he bump into me knowing that I had a cup of coffee in my hand?” In the back of our mind, we are likely thinking, “He should have known that being careless would cause him to bump into me” or “He should have known better.”


What about the second one? “Why didn’t he move to avoid the collision?”. Instead, what we are thinking is, “He should have moved out of the way.”


I think you get the gist of what I am getting at here. These frustrating thoughts are a result of the expectations that we placed on Bill. He “should” have known/done something differently. The question is, according to who? Most of us grow up learning the “should” in life. “You should be respectful,” “You should help others,” etc. (There are SO many that I could list here, so fill in the ones that you learned growing up). In this situation, you learned to apologize and help someone. So, of course, your mind immediately goes to anger or frustration that the other person did not respond how YOU learned to react to this situation. What if Bill was never shown respect growing up? What if, as a child, he was always blamed for other people’s mistakes? Or even, what if Bill is having a REALLY awful day and his “go-to” reaction is to be frustrated with other people? In any of these situations, Bill probably will not live up to your “should” when he bumps into you.


If you were bothered by Bill’s response, the critical takeaway point is to do something about it. Is it a problem that you have expectations and standards of others? Of course not! Is it a problem that you have uncommunicated expectations and standards for other people? YES! If certain things are important to you, but you never communicate them to other people, “should” becomes a dangerous word. Unspoken expectations turn into frustration and anger. Soon enough, that frustration and anger can turn into resentment. Do you see how this might portray itself in your relationships?


Next up…How do we communicate these expectations and standards?





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