Should: A Trigger Word to Avoid

Try these tips instead of the word "should"

Try these tips instead of the word “should”

Certain words just set us off. And when that happens no matter the intent, content, or benefit of what’s being said, we resist. We clam up. We shut down. We tune out.  Communication breaks down.  Conversations go sideways. The results are never what we intended.

The word “should” is a trigger word for most of us. No one likes being told what to do. Some of us see RED the moment someone says should to us. Instead of realizing they mean to offer help, we hear judgment. We feel corrected.  We might even feel defensive. It reminds us of being disciplined as a child.

Whatever feelings it brings up, the important thing to realize is there are alternatives to telling others what they should do, or how they should be, or what they should think and feel.

Try these substitutes instead and observe the difference:

  • “Consider this” – this is a great opener that tells others to just think of our idea or suggestion. With this approach, we offer them an option rather than a directive. It’s softer and easier to hear.
  • “Here’s a suggestion to think about” – Another way of saying the same thing. The listener is free to decide. All we are asking is for them to THINK about it.
  • “What do you think about this idea?” – Try a question for a completely different response. It lets the listener understand we are asking for their reaction rather than deciding for them.
  • “How about trying this _____ ?” – Another way to pose an alternative, but rather than telling it asks for feedback also.
  • “Something you might consider is ______” – Though very similar to “consider this”, it is yet another soft way of offering a suggestion without triggering resistance.

Next time you’re tempted with a case of the “shoulds” consider trying one of these phrases instead. Play with them. Observe reactions. See what works best. And by all means, should (it’s ok to use should in this context!)  you find other phrases that work well, please share them with me. I’d love to hear your ideas.


  1. Great stuff Donna. Please keep them coming! I’ve signed up to “Get News From Donna” in the sidebar so I won’t miss anything.