As I was in the midst of discovering the details of the Essential Journey, I spent a weekend at a seminar called “The 5 Minute Mentor” put on by my good friend Kerry Parsons. Attending that seminar at that same time was a friend of mine. I still remember JT saying in that seminar “I need to stop ‘shoulding’ on myself!'” How true is that? How many of us “should” on ourselves and on others every day?
It brings to mind a conversation my wife Kendra and I have, largely as parents, about the toxic nature of three specific words … SHOULD … NEED … MUST. I’ll refer to that as SNM here on in. As we use them in a conversation, they can be innocuous … “I should go for a walk” … “I need to eat” … “I must call my sister”. But when we apply them to others, they take on an edgier tone. For example … “you should take more care when you do that” … “you need to pay more attention to your family” … “you must spend more time on the details”.
Can you think of a recent event where someone said something like that to you? How did you respond to SNM? Is it a positive “Well I’ll be! I will totally follow your advice!” Or is it more along the lines of “How could you possibly know what ISNM do?. Do you have any idea of what brought me to this place? How much thought I’ve given this situation? How many alternatives I’ve considered?. What dilemmas I’ve faced? And here you are after x minutes of conversation and you are telling me what I SNM do?” Sound familiar?
Why do we do this to each other? Is it because we truly believe that we’ve solved the problem and we are certain of our friend’s or colleague’s next steps? Or is it because we want to sound knowledgable … impress people … feel important? Or is it our old friend FEAR at work? We worry about our friend or colleague, or perhaps if they do make a mistake that it may impact us, and so we try to help by SNM‘ing…
I think this latter element is more true than any of the others. I think we fear for people close to us and we express those fears through SNM statements. When we say to someone that we NEED them to take a certain action to address a risk, I think what we are really saying is that we need to know either that people we care about are okay … we don’t actually need them to do anything. We just need to trust that they are capable of taking care of themselves.
A secondary motivation can also be how the actions of others might impact us. We want to steer others actions so as to minimize any perceived consequences to us. And hence we express things defensively. Perhaps we could rephrase these worries in a different way … when we say “you should …” could we replace it with “I would feel better if you …”? And can “you need to …” become “I need you to”?
Does this apply to us as leaders? Probably more than anywhere else other than parenting (come to think of it, isn’ t that the ultimate form of leadership?). Can we step away from using SNM as a part of our coaching and instead lean towards questions like those we discussed above? Can we phrase our thoughts more as questions than commands?
“I know you’ve been thinking about this … can you share your thoughts?”
“What do you think we SNM do?”
“Can you describe the dilemma to me more fully?”
“What are our alternatives?”
“How can I help?”
Above all though can we please stop “shoulding” on each other? 🙂