Say This, Not That

I think we all want to come off as kind, caring, helpful people. But sometimes despite our best efforts, the reactions we evoke from others can be defensive and hostile. Sure, it may be because that other person is sensitive and having a bad day. Or it could be that we could have said what we said a little . . . better.

Probably one of the most common things that we say to each other is, “You should.”

“You should discipline your child like this. You should do this more at work. You should do more of this and you should stop doing that.”

We are full of good intentions, but the reality is that when we tell someone else what they should do (or some variation of that statement,) we’re communicating several pretty negative things. We’re saying they don’t know what they should do, and we’re arrogantly assuming we do know what they should do. Additionally, we take a superior position by dictating commands and communicating in a condescending way by giving instructions.

Of course we just want to help—I know that!

But the difference between coming across as helpful or bossy is all in how you present it. So to help us all be more helpful and less bossy, here are three positive alternatives to saying “You should . . . ”

1. “Have you thought about . . . ” Instead of saying “You should put your child in this daycare,” you could say, “Have you ever thought about (fill in the blank) daycare? I’ve heard great things.” This keeps you both on the same playing field, invites discussion, communicates interest, and keeps the decision and power where it belongs—in the other person’s hands!

2. “One thing that worked for me was . . . ” This is my favorite go-to for sharing advice in a non-bossy way. When I use “me” statements, I am only speaking for myself and never for the other person. I’m able to share ideas, including those that I believe work, while also communicating humility and understanding that what worked for me may not work for everyone else.

3. “What do you feel is the best thing to do?” This may not seem like a comparable alternative to “You should,” but the reality is sometimes we should stop giving so much advice. Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is listen, ask questions, and allow the other person to figure out the solution for themselves. More often than not, they know in their heart what they should do. They just need to talk it through out loud with someone in order to realize it. For example, it is an absolute rule of the coaching profession that you never tell someone what they should do. Instead, ask questions that bring awareness and allow someone to discover what they should do by themselves. Those are the solutions that they take ownership of and embrace the most anyway.

I’m a person that loves words because I know the power that they have. They have the power to build up or tear down. They have the power to inspire or discourage. And they have the power to build relationships or drive wedges.

It may seem like a small change—and maybe even an insignificant one. But I believe if you start using these positive alternative options, you’ll see what a difference they can make. After all, the difference between coming across as helpful or bossy is all in how you present it.