Removing “Should” from Our Vocabulary

My wife Robyn and I will celebrate two years of marriage on October 20th. She exudes a great deal of patience, graciousness, and wisdom. I’ll never forget a piece of advice she gave to me. In the midst of a conversation, she said to me, “I think you might want to consider removing ‘should’ from your vocabulary.”


One word can make a drastic difference in our conversation. She began to indicate to me what a person hears when we tell them, “You should…”

Should implies authority in a moment when a person seeks your understanding.
Should oversimplifies a difficult issue.
Should can accidently or purposely question a person’s intelligence.
Should comes across more about me than you.
Should can rob people of discovering a solution on their own.

Honestly, I still struggle using the word should. Sometimes in our exuberance to help people, we can miss how we come across to them. Removing this word invites us see conversations with others in a different light; removing the focus off of ourselves and giving them the opportunity to process.

Instead of using “should” in our vocabulary, here are four alternatives:

1. Ask Questions

You have the opportunity to help a person discover how they can grow. Questions, focused more on quality than quantity, invite a person to a different perspective. The best questions include Who, What, When, Where and How. At times, Why can carry negative connotations. That might be another post.

Some questions you can consider; What do you think is your next step? When did you start thinking about this? How can grow from this?

2. Share an Experience to Identify Not to Give Advice

Sharing experiences usually result in using the word “should.” Your experiences can identify with another person. Instead of giving advice, you can share what you thought and how you felt. Experiences say, “Me too…”

3. Partner

Look for ways you can join them in finding a solution. It might look like going to the gym with them. You could attend an event with them. They could rehearse a conversation with you. Partnering walks alongside a person.

4. Model

Modeling takes place in the consistency of relationship. Rather than saying “should” live out what you say.

What alternatives to using the word “should” would you add?

Photo Credit Sarah Babineau in Life of Pix.


  1. I really enjoyed this article. What you should do in your next article is…just kidding!

    Seriously, though – I have noticed that I have dropped this word out of my vocabulary, but maybe not consciously. Just walked through a situation with a friend a few weeks ago who did something that I didn’t agree with (though not sinful, just a poor approach to a situation) and he was looking to me very directly for advice and validation at the same time. Instead of going down the path of “What you should have done was…” I used lines such as, “Wow, that is a tough one. I guess I would have been tempted to do X in that situation.” That way I was clearly sharing my “should” admonition, but I was doing it in a way that I thought was more subjective and personal, while also being less authoritative. By saying what I think I would have done it simply sits out there as another point or option to consider, not a declarative statement. If my friend liked and agreed with what I said, he might have changed his position. If he didn’t, then he simply would have simply evaluated it from my perspective. I don’t know if that is an equally good alternative to the four you listed, but it worked well in that situation.

    • Peter Englert

      October 15, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Ryan, that’s a fantastic example. I like how you gave your friend an opportunity to evaluate what you said without commanding. It seems like people need time to process and more patience from us.

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