Stop using the “S” word!

If I’d received a dollar every time I heard someone say “We should do X…” or “We should stop doing Y…” I would be very rich!

And, if I received a dollar every time the person saying “We should do X…” actually did what they said should be done, I would be broke!

Every organization is filled with good and committed people who sincerely want to be part of, and make a difference in the corporate mission. They also want to be known and feel appreciated and valued for their efforts and contributions.

Let’s be honest, in most organizations, it can be hard to step up, take responsibility and make things better, especially in large complex organizations. As a result, corporations are filled with well-meaning individuals who are scarred from having tried to rise above the morass of politics, silos and turf wars in order to initiate new ideas and ways of doing things – in the service of doing the right thing – only to crash and burn due to management or other functions. It’s no wonder people use phrases like “Career limiting move… to excuse their lack of initiative and innovation. When is the last time you gave someone or received the wise advice of: “Pick your battles!“.

The English language invented a word that supports all the good intentioned employees and managers who care, who see what is needed but are too resigned and/or too afraid to take the risk of putting their behinds on the line for driving change. The word is – SHOULD.

The word SHOULD is one of the biggest scams in the English language!

It is a magical word that makes you feel like you are really taking ownership and accountability while you are actually doing the opposite. The word ‘should‘ keeps you safe and away from taking ownership and responsibility for a real outcome. This word even makes others around you feel that you are taking ownership and accountability… And, when you add the word “we” to the sentence – “We should do X…” it adds the appearance of looking out for the greater good of the company, which further advances your good feeling and brand. However, it also increases the delusion and deception.

The bottom line: Every time you hear someone say “We should do X…” or “We should stop doing Y…” you can bet everything you got that nothing will get done or change!

I know this may sound harsh, but it is not. I believe that most people who say: “We should…” have the good intentions of highlighting the problems and making things better. However, if you want to make a difference you should use powerful words that will help you, and not confuse them with weak words that undermine what you are attempting to achieve.

So, how could you change this predicament?

It’s actually quite simple: Stop using that word “should”.

To be more rigorous: Stop using that word if you want to drive change in something that is important to you.

Instead, if you want something to happen, say: “I will do X…” or “I will stop doing Y…” The word WILL has quite a different impact. It reflects a promise, and as such it actually evokes real ownership and accountability. You may not be able to control the outcomes you want. However, you sure can control your actions. When you promise to do something it is 100% in your control to do it.

Further, unlike the “should” examples above, you can only say “We will do X…” if everyone around you has explicitly promised to “do X” like you. Otherwise, you can only speak for yourself. If you want to enroll others in your commitment you could always invite them or make a request of them to also promise what you are promising. Promising is an individual action.

If jumping from “We should do X…” to “I will do X…” is too big of a leap for you, there is an interim step that may help you get there. You could start by saying: “I want to do X… or “I want to stop doing Y” You could even say “I want us to do X… or stop us doing Y…”

This is not as powerful as promising an action, however, it gives you the opportunity to generate initial ownership toward what you want. If you think this is too easy, think again. Saying “We should….” is super easy. However, saying “I want X…” is often much harder. Try it.

I hope you will take away at least two main things from this blog:

  • Start paying attention and catching yourself and other when you/they say “We should…” Don’t be blind and oblivious to these deceptive words…
  • Don’t let people who are committed to making a difference get away with using the “We should…” words. When they say it, stop them, politely of course, and invite them to promise something powerful.

Two frequent complaints I hear in so many organizations: “Meetings are a waste of time” and “the lack of ownership and accountability.” Well, a huge part of the problem is in how people think and talk. The use of ‘should‘ is a huge source of the letdown in both areas.

Stand for effective communication. Don’t tolerate inconsequential conversations around you. Promote and only use language that actually makes a difference in what you and others want. Finally, adopt the principle that if you can’t find it in yourself to speak effectively, don’t say anything at all!

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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