Image of fist being held over an employee.

“Shoulding” is Messy

Let Employees Contribute and Thrive

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from the pastor who performed the wedding ceremony for my lovely bride and me. We met with him several times before the big day for pre-marriage counseling.

I don’t recall the context of our discussion that particular day, but I remember clearly what he said:

“Don’t ‘should’ all over yourself.”

Here’s what he meant:

Spend your time obsessing about the things you should do, should have done, shouldn’t do and shouldn’t have done, and you’re never going to be happy. In fact, you’ll box yourself into a life of frustration. 

Of course it’s important to set goals and create plans for achieving them. Of course there will be things you wish you would’ve done, or done differently. But it’s equally important to not be too rigid or beat yourself up over those things.

Live well, be kind, apply The Golden Rule and so on, and things will work out. More importantly, you’ll be happier, more content and more open to possibilities.

He also suggesting “shoulding” on others, in this case our soon-to-be spouses, should be avoided. Doing so causes them to be less happy, can make them crawl back into their shells and likely will make them dislike, or even despise, you.

This advice applies just as appropriately to work and employee-supervisor-employer situations. We’ve all heard the old cliché – “Happy employees are more productive employees.” They’re also more dedicated, driven and creative employees, all of which can be important for any business, and especially in my line of work.

Here’s another cliché for you – “Clichés are clichés because they’re true.”

In work situations, “shoulds” not only box people in; they stifle creativity and drive, two things that can be very beneficial to a business and its bottom line.

Consider the following statements:

  • “You should approach the project this way…”
  • “You could approach the project this way…”

See the difference? 

The second is more a suggestion than a directive, and therefore is much less threatening or likely to cause employees to withdraw, crawl back into their shells and play it safe. The substitution of “could” for “should” leaves the door open for other, potentially better, ideas and ways of doing things. 

Here’s a third option that’s even better yet:

  • “What do you think is the best way to approach this project?”

Employees are the most valuable assets of any business, if they’re freed to contribute and thrive. Managers and owners hire them for their brains and abilities; it doesn’t make much sense to shut down their potential before they even get started.

Don’t “should” all over them.

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