I am writing an email to a client I haven’t heard from in a while. We have one or two lasts sessions to achieve his organizing goals. I have learned over the years that for many of my clients, the idea of doing the work with me can bring on anxiety because it means addressing clutter and disorganization that has been historically difficult. Or at least is not a favorite thing to do. I know that getting my email may immediately make my client think:
“Oh, Nancy. Yes, I should get those file cabinets organized. That big mess is long overdue. I should make the time for it. Ugh”
I want to end my note to him by saying: don’t should yourself! And, yes, I mean it to sound like don’t shit yourself! Speaking with Should in your language for yourself is harsh, demanding and unproductive. Changing to the language of Could makes a gorgeous purposeful difference.
Imagine if, instead, he said to himself upon reading my email:
“Oh, Nancy. Yes, I could get those file cabinets organized. That big mess is long overdue. I could make the time for it.. Cool!”
Should is a decision; an obligation that feels like a reprimand or a sacrifice you will have to make. One letter change from C to S – to could – turns it into a choice; an opportunity that feels like possibility. From dark to light. From guilt to magic.
Should’s are for Mommy’s, teachers and other authority figures. Yes, use should with your kids or your employees, to show obligation or give a recommendation “You should get it done by 9:00 am.” or “You should get organized, for goodness sake”. Indeed, it is defined as “must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency):” You should not speak like that!
On the other hand, COULD is used to suggest a possibility or to simply make a polite request: It could be me that gets it done” – or – “Could you please move this box?” “Why, yes I can.” Could, defined, is more friendly than should: it is used to express possibility. (I wonder who that could be at the door.) Or to express ability (You could do it if you tried.) Or in making a polite request, such as “Could you open the door for me, please?” or “I could email her and schedule the time.” You could speak like that, joyfully!
So, please, don’t should yourself!
Could not should.
…for choice and possibility.