"Buts" and "Shoulds"- A piece of awareness for toning our relationships

For several years now I have been keenly aware of the uses of the terms “but” or “should” during my conversations.  It’s pretty amazing how when I cut these ideas out of my language how my understanding of others, and others trust of me expands.

Let’s start with the big “BUT.”  “I love you, but I need something different than what you’re providing.” Or “That was a good try, but you can do better.”  When we use a “but” it negates what we said before it.  It creates the sense that I know better than you and tells the person that we’re communicating with that the first part of our statement was really just meant to soften the blow of a difficult piece of feedback, and that feedback is really all we meant to deliver.  Most often, this is not our true intention.  I personally think that delivering difficult feedback comes best when it comes from a place of caring for the other person’s deepest well-being.  When we include a “but” in this feedback, it can have the effect of implying that we are only delivering this feedback to serve our own well being or goals.  In most situations replacing a “but” with an “and” can really do wonders for where our true intentions are and relay our hopes instead of just our disappointment.

Then there come the “shoulds.”  My best friend will tell you about our hilarious conversations where we ask the other not to “should all over me” < that can get messy!  When we tell someone what they “should” do, it again implies that we do not trust them to know how to do something for themselves or that I know better than they do.  I was explaining this concept to a classroom full of teachers one time and one of them said, “But I DO know better than them, and I need them to know that so they trust me as a teacher and role model.”  To this I responded, “When you tell them that you are better than them, do they still respect and trust you?” 

When trying to get a point across, incorporating a collaborative method where we help them feel empowered to know how to do things their own way is how we are creating more community who can problem solve effectively on their own.  It’s the whole “teach-a-man-to-fish” theory.  If we teach others what we think they “should” do, then they will either become our clones, or entirely reject the important information we are trying to convey.  When we are able to say things like, “If what you are trying to accomplish is____ then you can try ___” instead of “you ‘should’ _____” then it creates collaboration and mutual respect.  In working with teenagers for many years, I can honestly say that the only way I have ever been able to get a point across is through having mutual respect and understanding.   When we take the “should” out of our dialogue it relays our true intentions much more effectively.

Try it out!  Using simple language awareness to help us be inclusive to many opinions and ideas can shift others experiences of working with us, and increase effectiveness for long-term outcomes.

Robin Funsten2 Comments